Ankle sprained? You may want to get back on your feet as soon as possible, but taking ample time to heal may prevent chronic problems.
If you’re like many people, you ice your sprained ankle and try to get back on your feet as soon as you can. But here’s the real twist. If you don’t give your ankle enough time to heal, you raise your risk for developing chronic foot and ankle problems.
Ankle sprains are the most common injury in the United States. A sprain occurs when you twist, turn, or roll your foot beyond its normal range. The ligaments in the ankle stretch suddenly and sometimes tear. An ankle sprain can cause swelling, bruising, tenderness, and trouble walking.
There are three grades of ankle sprains. The amount of force on the ligaments determines the grade level.
- Grade 1 sprain: slight stretching and some damage to the ligament
- Grade 2 sprain: partial tearing of the ligament
- Grade 3 sprain: complete tearing of the ligament
Know when to get help
Seek immediate medical help if you sprained your ankle and have:
- Severe pain
- Numbness in the foot or ankle
- Inability to move or bear weight
- A pale or bluish color or it feels cool to the touch
- Any deformity of the joint (misshapen)
It is important to call your doctor right away if you have medical problems such as osteoporosis, diabetes, nerve damage, or if you are taking blood thinners.
Also, call your doctor if a minor sprain doesn’t improve after 72 hours of self treatment or if it starts to feel worse.
Treatments and exercises you can do at home
For mild sprains (grade 1 or 2). RICE to the rescue. RICE means:
- Rest. Rest your ankle, don’t walk on it.
- Ice. Put ice on it right away to keep swelling down. You can apply ice wrapped in a thin towel for about 15 minutes at a time about three or four times a day. Remove the ice if the area starts to feel numb. Do not use ice if you have diabetes or problems with your nerves or blood vessels.
- Compression. Use an elastic wrap to compress the ankle for at least a couple of days. Do not wrap it too tight and never overnight.
- Elevation. Put your ankle up by resting it on a cushion so that it is above your heart level.
Use NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen) to help reduce pain and swelling. Follow the directions on the label. Check with your doctor first if you take any other medications or have other medical problems.
If you have more than just mild pain, swelling, or bruising, see your doctor so he or she can decide if an x-ray is needed to rule out any broken bones. For some sprains, your doctor may suggest using a splint.
Depending on the grade of your sprain, it may be 1 to 3 weeks before you can resume light activity. Your doctor will determine the best schedule for you.
More serious sprains require immobilizing the joint with the use of a splint, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery.
Preventing ankle sprain
Maintaining strength and flexibility of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons is key to preventing ankle injuries. It is an important step to reduce your risk of chronic foot and ankle problems.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends making these exercises part of your daily routine:
- Stretch your calf and Achilles tendon. Stand on a step, facing the stairs, with one foot just in front of the other. Allow the heel to stretch gently downward over the edge. The knee is straight. Feel the pull in the calf (Achilles tendon) and the bottom of the foot. Switch feet and repeat. Do this for 30 seconds four to six times every day.
- Improve your balance. Stand on one leg with your eyes closed, as long as you can. Build up to 30 seconds. Repeat three times twice daily.
- Strengthen your foot and ankle. Lying on your side, let the end of your upper leg hang over the edge of the sofa. Slowly lift your toes toward the ceiling, hold for 3 seconds and repeat 10 times twice a day. Repeat on the other side.
Always check with your doctor before you start any new exercise routine.
Take your time. If you try to get back in the game too soon, you risk another injury. Frequent ankle sprains can lead to weak and unstable ankles, pain, and reduced range of motion.