Tips To Treat Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains are extremely common, but that doesn’t make them any less painful. We explain what an ankle sprain is, and provide you with steps to follow for a full and safe recovery.
When you sprain an ankle, you won’t be alone. About 25,000 other people across the country sprain an ankle every day, but knowing that is probably not going to make your injury any less painful.
When you experience a mild sprain, you’ve stretched a ligament, but you haven’t loosened a joint. You ankle will be tender and swollen around the ankle bone, with modest pain. A moderate sprain partially tears the ligament, resulting in joint instability and some swelling. A severe sprain causes excruciating pain as ligaments tear or separate from the bone. You’ll usually feel a tear or a pop in the joint at the moment of injury, and the ankle will stop functioning; it may not be able to bear weight. Although the intensity of symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury, all three categories of sprain result in pain, bruising, swelling, and inflammation.
Initial care of an ankle sprain follows the familiar RICE formula: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Wrap ice in a wet towel or cloth and ice your ankle for 20 to 30 minutes every hour. However, if you are unable to bear weight or if there is no improvement after several days, it’s time to see your physician without delay.
Give your injured ankle a few days to recover after the initial injury. When the swelling goes down, you may want to warm your ankle before rehabilitation by soaking it in warm water. Warm tissues are more flexible, and less prone to injury. Follow these three steps to rehabilitate your sprain:
- Restore motion and flexibility. With your foot flat on the floor, gently move your ankle up and down. One week after your injury, begin turning your heel in and out. To start restoring flexibility to the calf muscles, face a wall with one foot in front of the other and both hands on the wall. Lean forward, bending your front leg but keeping your back leg straight, until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, switch legs, and repeat.
- Restore strength. When about 70 percent of your normal ankle motion has returned, begin strengthening your legs with resistance exercises. Sit on the floor with your knees bent, heels on floor, and a resistance band looped around both feet. Slowly extend one leg outward, moving your knee as little as possible. Return slowly to the starting position, and repeat with the other foot.
- Restore balance. After sufficient strength has returned, you can work on balance by standing on your injured foot with the other foot in the air, and both arms outstretched to your sides.
You are ready to return to sports activities when you have full range of ankle motion in all directions, near-normal strength in the ankle muscles, good balance, and no pain or swelling with exercise. Taping or bracing your ankle can help prevent re-injury. With a bit of patience and the correct rehabilitation program, you’ll soon safely resume your normal activities.
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