Avoiding an Ankle Sprain (and What to Do When You Can’t)
Spraining your ankle may seem like the kind of “ordinary” bad experience that just about everyone is guaranteed to have sooner or later in life, like getting stung by a bee or having the wrong pizza delivered.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t still take steps to reduce both the likelihood of ankle sprains, as well as the severity of any that you do develop.
In fact, reducing both frequency and severity or sprains are extremely important if you want to prevent potential long-term consequences. This includes knowing how to reduce your personal risks, as well as how to properly treat an ankle sprain if and when one does occur.
Sprains are not trivial injuries. Even one or two “minor” ones can lead to chronic pain and instability if you don’t seek proper care.
Let’s be proactive and begin with some sprain prevention tips.
Wear Stable Shoes
Many people will go straight to high heels when they think of shoes types that cause ankle sprains. They are certainly a top offender, but by no means the only one!
A shoe can have a low heel, but can still increase your risk of a sprain if it has low lateral stability for your needs. In other words, it is not keeping the side-to-side movement of your foot stable, making it more likely that you may roll your ankle with a misstep.
Worn-out shoes have lost much of this stability, and flip-flops and sandals can barely have any to begin with. But it’s important to ensure even relatively new shoes are best built for the demands you wish to put them through. When playing sports with frequent lateral movement, like tennis or basketball, make sure you are wearing tennis or basketball shoes built to increase lateral stability.
Build Your Balance and Stability
The difference between a simple stumble and a painful sprain often depends on how well you can correct yourself after you start to lose your balance. The better you condition your ankle strength and sense of balance, the better you can respond to unstable situations—and have a better outcome.
Taking a bit of time each day for some relevant exercises can go a long way toward improving your stability and balance. Here are a couple examples:
- Balance exercise. There’s a very easy way to incorporate this into day: stand on one foot while brushing your teeth, watching TV, or any other opportune time. Be sure to have a sturdy chair or wall for support if you need it. Once standing on each foot for at least 30 seconds becomes easy, add some challenge by standing on a pillow or closing your eyes. (Again, however, have something nearby to grab onto if you need it!)
- Ankle strengthening exercise. While sitting, extend one leg out in front of you. Treating your big toe as a pen, move your ankle to write out the alphabet in the air. Repeat 2-3 times with each foot.
These are basic exercises to start. We can help you determine more advanced and targeted routines for your individual needs, if you wish!
Prepare for Physical Activity
We talked about having the right shoes, but are your feet and ankles themselves ready to go?
A proper warm-up is always important for avoiding sports injuries of all types. You should always take at least a couple of minutes to warm up, no matter the activity. Make sure you don’t just stretch while being still, but also perform some dynamic movements like light jogging and heel raises as well.
And if you are just starting a new activity or sport, head into it cautiously and gradually work your intensity up. Going full bore into exercises that your body is not conditioned to handle is a ticket to injury—especially sprains.
Know the First Steps to Take if You Suffer a Sprain
With ankle sprains, proper treatment is an important step toward preventing future sprains!
When a sprain does not heal properly, it can cause weakness and instability in the ankle that increases the probability of another sprain, which increases the chance of another, and so on. The right treatment can break that downward spiral, and it begins as soon as you start feeling pain:
- Immediately stop what you’re doing, if you can. No trying to “walk it off.” No “pushing through.” If the ligaments in your ankle have been strained or torn, trying to continue will only put them at risk for further damage.
- Take weight off the affected foot as soon as possible and give us a call, even if you feel the sprain is mild. Many supposedly “mild” ankle sprains that should receive professional treatment go underreported, and this greatly increases the risk of chronic problems. If your symptoms sound mild, we may ask you to simply keep an eye on things, and we will have a record of the injury in case additional problems arise in the future.
- Follow RICE therapy through the first 48 hours to help reduce pain and swelling.
- REST – Continue to keep weight off the injured ankle.
- ICE – Apply an ice pack (a bag of frozen veggies will also do) to the area for 15-20 minutes, every 2-3 hours. Wrap your ice pack in a thin towel to stop it from damaging your skin.
- COMPRESSION – Wrap the ankle in an elastic medical bandage, making it snug without constricting your blood flow. Loosen the bandage if the area below the wrap feels cold, numb, or tingly. If you are not comfortable with wrapping your ankle, you can skip this step.
- ELEVATION – Keep your ankle above the level of your heart as often as possible. This can be as simple as propping your leg up on pillows while resting on the sofa or in bed.
Remember that you do not necessarily need to come into the office for an initial evaluation of your ankle. We can discuss what happened and take a good first look via a telemedicine appointment, if you wish. If we recommend a more direct evaluation or treatment, we will ask you to schedule an in-person appointment.
Do Not Underestimate Ankle Sprains!
Ankle sprains may be relatively common, but that doesn’t mean you should just let them run their course. Taking the right steps toward protection, prevention, and treatment can make a huge overall difference in both the short and long term, and we’re here for you whenever misfortune strikes.
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