A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries, especially amongst those who play sport or exercise regularly. Whilst painful, a sprain generally doesn’t cause any long-term problems. However, it’s important to know how to avoid re-injuring the sprained ankle, as some people find that they can have trouble with a recurring sprain.
To reduce your chances of a recurring sprain, it’s important to treat the sprain immediately and give yourself adequate time to recover and rehabilitate your ankle before returning to sport. It can be frustrating to sit out while your team plays or to miss your daily run or gym session, but in the long run it will be beneficial.
As soon as possible after the sprain has occurred, use the RICE approach:
Rest – take the weight off the injured ankle and try to avoid using it until it’s starting to feel a lot less painful.
Ice – treat the ankle with icepacks or an ice foot bath, which will reduce swelling and decrease the pain and bruising.
Compression – wrap the injured ankle firmly with a bandage and keep it wrapped for 2 – 3 days after the injury, to decrease swelling. Make sure that the bandage does not impede your circulation.
Elevate – by raising the ankle up, you may find swelling to be less severe.
Make sure that you avoid heat, alcohol, and massage in the few days following a sprain as they can all worsen the swelling and bruising.
The RICE approach should make your ankle feel more comfortable within a day or so, but if you have very severe pain and / or are unable to put any weight on your foot at all, you should seek professional medical advice to make sure that your injury is not something more serious, such as a broken bone.
Once your ankle is starting to feel better, it can be tempting to get straight back into playing sport or exercising. Be wary. Putting stress on the ankle before it’s completely healed will increase your risk of spraining it again. Take some time out to rehabilitate your ankle with strengthening exercises, once it is healed. The following exercises may help:
- Achilles stretches
This exercise will help to maintain flexibility and range of motion in the ankle. While seated, loop a towel around your toes. Pull the ends of the towel, pulling your toes upwards. You should feel the stretch in the back of the ankle.
- Alphabet writing
This is a good one to do whilst watching television! Simply write the alphabet in the air, using your big toe as the ‘pencil’. Again, this exercise will improve mobility and prevent any stiffness from setting in. Another good exercise to do whilst sitting at your desk or in front of the television is ankle circles – simply sit with your leg held out in front of you and circle to foot – go both clockwise and anti-clockwise.
- Toe Raises
To improve strength in the damaged ankle, try this exercise. Stand on a step with your heels over the edge. Slowly raise up so that your weight is on your toes, then gradually let the heel come down. Repeat as many times as you can.
- Balance Exercises
One of the common problems following a bad sprain is a ‘proprioceptive deficit’ – that is, the body’s ability to provide feedback to the brain. Following a sprain, this can be impeded, leading to problems controlling the ankle. Using a wobble board can help with this, but if you don’t have one (and don’t want to shell out for one), you can try this simple exercise: standing on one foot (the injured one). Do this for as long as you can – it’s a good one to do whilst you’re washing up or brushing your teeth.
When your ankle does feel strong enough to return to exercising, take it easy. Don’t over-do it at first and build up slowly.
Be certain to warm up very thoroughly before exercising and consider wearing an ankle support or brace in the short term to give you some more stability (don’t wear for too long though, or you can get dependent on it and have problems with balance when you stop wearing it). Make sure that your training shoes are supportive enough. And finally, to stay injury-free, take extra care if you’re outdoors on uneven or wet and slippery ground.