Ankle sprains can easily become chronic in nature if not treated correctly. Proper initial care can mean the difference between a single sprain, or a lifetime of an ankle problems. Below are a few tips that will help you along with your recovery, and get you back to sports faster and safer.
Control Your Swelling
You may have heard of RICE – Rest, ice, compression, elevation. These principles are the first and most important part of treating your ankle sprain. With RICE you can effectively control the swing that occurs after an ankle sprain, and literally cut your recovery time in half.
The most important part of RICE is the compression. It is the most effective way to treat your swelling. Ice alone will not prevent excessive swelling. Elevation and rest alone will not prevent swelling. Only compression can work to eliminate excessive swelling around your ankle. This is the key to getting your recovery started right.
To control swelling, use an elastic wrap and horseshoe pad around the ankle. Apply the wrap all the way down to your toes and half way up your calf. Keep it on all the time for the first 7-10 days after your sprain.
Forget About 'No Pain, No Gain'
When it comes to healing, pain is the indicator that you are over stressing the tissue. That means that when you are recovering from your ankle sprain, you should avoid activities that cause pain. So, if walking is very painful – use crutches. It is not a matter of just walking it off. Rest is important during the first 1-3 days after your injury. This is when your body works to control internal bleeding and to start forming the scar matrix to heal the ligament. Unnecessary stress on the healing tissues means you will not get good healing and you may suffer from chronic instability. So avoid painful activities, especially during the first few days.
Range of Motion First
Before you worry about strengthening your ankle, you need to restore normal range of motion. Normal motion helps your body to absorb swelling, provides nutrients to the joint surfaces, and will allow the muscles to work efficiently once you do begin strengthening. You can start working on gentle range of motion within the first 24-48 hours after injury. Just remember to make sure it is gentle and reliably pain free. Mild discomfort is OK but avoid severe pain.
Range of motion exercises can be as simple as pointing your toes, turning your foot in and out, or drawing circles or the alphabet with your foot. Just try to work through all of the different ranges, moving as far as you can without significant pain.
Strengthening Your Ankle
Ankle strengthening is an essential part of recovering from an ankle sprain. The key is to make sure you do not go too fast. Again, pain is an indicator that you may be doing too much too soon. Elastic band exercises are a good way to work on improving ankle strength. Other exercises like calf raises, lunges, and step ups will also work to strengthen your ankle muscles.
Balance is the Key
Balance exercises are one area of ankle sprain recovery that many people overlook … and they are probably the most important part of any recovery program. In order for your ankle to be stable, the muscles and joints all have to work together efficiently. After an ankle sprain the communication between the muscles and joints is disrupted. Balance exercises are the most effective way to restore that communication and improve the efficiency of the muscles.
A simple single leg balance, where you stand on your injured leg only for a short period of time, is a great exercise to start with. Try balancing for 30 seconds without touching down. Once that becomes easy, you can progress your balancing by turning your head from side to side while you balance, or try rotating your arms and trunk side to side. You can also try to balance on a cushion or pillow – this will make balancing much more challenging.
Ask For A Referral
Ankle sprains are often underestimated. That is why the recurrence rate can be so high. Sprains that are treated with just RICE and no type of range of motion, strengthening, or balance exercises will heal, but the overall function of your ankle will be worse than it was before injury. You can avoid lifetime problems by simply asking your physician for a referral for rehabilitation. Most insurances will cover rehabilitation for an ankle sprain, especially if your normal daily activities are limited. Just a few therapy sessions can make a huge difference in your ankle function … and it just may prevent a future sprain.
So ask for a referral.