It’s been widely accepted that a sprained ankle heals slowly and badly. With the traditional treatment known as R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), rehab takes anywhere from 1 -3 months in and 30% of the cases, up to a year or more.
I don’t know of anyone who would choose that kind of time frame to heal a sprained ankle. Not only that, you have to remember that rest and ice do not actually heal anything. The decreased strength, stability and range of motion from the injury will still be there, even after you can walk normally again. For example, most people notice their ankles are noticeably weaker when they try to play sports again.
In addition, weakened ankles are susceptible to further injury and can even cause other physical problems throughout the body, such as knee, hip and low back injuries. In fact, recurring ankle sprains can require surgical intervention. So it’s important not only to heal the sprain but to also strengthen the tendons and ligaments of the ankle.
Isn’t there a faster way?
Through advances in sports medicine, we now know it’s possible to heal an ankle sprain much more quickly and safely, while strengthening the ankle at the same time. Now, healing a sprained ankle can take days instead of months, with the added benefit of stronger ankles.
The 3 Stages of Healing
To understand this, you have to understand how the body heals. First, the body goes through a stage called the inflammation response. The injured area becomes immobilized while the area swells up. Now, most people’s first inclincation is to try and reduce swelling right away. But, ask yourself why? Your body has evolved over millions of years and knows what’s it’s doing. We have found it is best not to get in the way of that…
Instead of hindering the swelling process in the first 48 hours, you want to encourage blood flow. You want to encourage the debris and waste out of the injury while also getting fresh blood and nutrients into the injured area. But, ice and rest can’t do that. In fact, ice has been shown to actually stop the flow of lymphatic drainage and reverse the flow of waste and debris back into the injured area!
In the first 48 hours, the body sends in immune cells to remove the waste and debris and start the healing process. Instead of hindering that natural process, you want to encourage it as much as possible. That is what healthy rehab is all about. Ice stops that natural process, so I do not recommend ice for an injury. Instead, healthy rehab encourages the removal of waste out of the injury.
After the inflammation response has occurred, the body goes into stage two of the healing process, which is called the repair. This is the part where the body sends in a flood of more immune cells to literally repair and regenerate healthy tissue to heal the area. It is absolutely essential that you encourage stage two as well. Again, rest and ice do not do anything for stage two. Obviously, rest is important, but not without rehab too. Safely and gently encouraging the ankle to stretch and grow more stable and strong is the key along with some other important techniques for improving healthy blood flow.
Finally, stage three is called the remodel… this is when the body gets back to full strength and the injury repair is completed. You cannot get to stages two and three until stage one is completed. It is the body’s natural way of healing. Stage three is all about improving strength, stability and range of motion so your ankle gets back to 100%.
Safe, gentle and powerful sprained ankle rehab
To best encourage these three stages of healing, you want to follow a very gentle and safe rehab program. I created the H.E.M. Ankle Rehab System for this purpose, because it can easily be done at home. But, some people will want to go see a physical therapist and that is great too. Just don’t ignore your injury and rely on rest and ice as a healing strategy, because it does not work.
You need to be proactive and rehab your ankle for good results. The good news is that your ankle will heal faster and much better than if you just lay around and wait. That includes increased strength, stability and balance as well as improved range of motion. And that translates into stronger ankles that perform much better and are at a lower risk of a sprained ankle.