How to treat a sprained ankle

A step-by-step guide

BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
Ask Earle

05 October 2015

We've all been there before...

You are jogging along the beach. As you’re distracted by the gentle breeze and the waves lapping up against the shore, you place your foot on the ground awkwardly and stumble. A pain shoots up your foot, through your ankle and calf. You shout out in pain and hop about for a few minutes, clutching your ankle. You test your foot out on the ground again and the pain shoots back. You have no option but to limp home despondently.

Spraining your ankle in this way is an extremely common scenario, though far from an exclusive one. It is possible to sprain an ankle when slipping down steps, stepping off a pavement too hard or even just standing up awkwardly. With an estimated 25,000 people spraining their ankle each day, this common problem clearly needs a little attention!

What is an ankle sprain?

Despite the ‘popularity’ for spraining ankles, this condition can be somewhat of a mysterious one. Sprains can often pretend to be recovered, only to flare up again a couple of weeks later. A lack of understanding that the ligaments need to rest can lead to prolonged injury time. Additionally, because of peoples’ nature, many try to carry on exercising with a sprained ankle. Remember – just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

A sprain occurs when the soft tissue in the joint is damaged. This can be a very slight stretching of the ligaments or tendons which recovers very quickly, or it can result in the soft tissue scarring or even tearing. How you treat your injury, and the length of your recovery time, will depend on its severity.

So what do I need to do to make my injury better?

Let’s take this one step at a time (no pun intended) and have a look at what to do each day to give your ankle the best chance of recovery. Remember that depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to spend longer with each stage. Aim to recover your ankle to 110%. The chances are that it was weakened before the sprain, so if your ankle is stronger than before, you significantly reduce your chances of a recurring injury.

Day 1: Stop putting weight on your ankle as soon as you have sprained it, to prevent yourself from doing any more harm to it. Applying ice to the injury as soon as possible will help to reduce blood flow to the injury and reduce swelling. A compress can be good for supporting the joint. 3-4 times over the course of the day, try to sit with an ice pack around your ankle, and your ankle lifted above the level of your heart. Try to avoid putting any stress on your joint. The recommended practice is summarised in the PRICE procedure.

Day 2: Your ankle will probably feel quite stiff, particularly on waking, and may be quite sore too. It is best to continue icing the injury, and keep off the ankle as much as possible.

Day 3: Though the stiffness will probably persist, your ankle will probably not feel too sore. Don’t be tempted to start putting it under extra pressure yet. Ice the ankle a few times throughout the day.

Day 4: By now, your ankle may still be a little stiff, but should not be sore or swollen. If this is the case, then you are ready to begin gentle stretches and applying a little extra pressure to it. Try some gentle stretches, including rotating your ankle slowly, and pointing your toes, then pulling them back towards your shin. While you may feel a little discomfort, you should not feel pain. If it is sore, then you should stop the exercise. By the end of the day you may even find that you can walk on it for short periods of time without limping.

Day 5: Even if your ankle feels completely fine now, remember that we are aiming to make the joint stronger than before the injury. Many people start putting too much pressure on it at this stage because it feels fine. However, the ankle is still weak and has not fully recovered, so giving it a hard time now is more than likely to result in re-injury.

Day 6: Now, if your ankle feels normal again, it is time to start after-care treatment. This involves breaking down scar-tissue with massages, and strengthening the muscles. Start off the massage with light strokes, and build these up, becoming firmer and deeper. Concentrate the pressure on the point of injury. Keep exercising and moving your ankle, ensuring that you are not experiencing pain at any stage.

Days 7-10: Massage the ankle periodically, and apply heat treatments when possible. Keep stretching your ankle and performing a range of movements. Incorporate weight-bearing exercises such as squats and balancing on one leg.

Over the following month: Continue stretching and exercising your ankle. Try skipping and hopping exercises and begin incorporating gentle strolls into your daily routine, building up to brisker walks. When your ankle feels really strong again you can begin running again.

Are there herbal remedies to help with my ankle sprain?

Many people find herbs are a natural healer for this type of injury. They are safe and effective, and can be used from the first day of injury. Arnica is a herb which has been used in homeopathic medicine for hundreds of years. It has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties, helping to reduce bruising and swelling. Fresh extracts of this herb can be found in A.Vogel Atrogel Arnica Gel.

Longer term sprains or swelling that are slow to recover may require you to control the symptoms in order to function normally at work or shopping. Atrosan Devil’s Claw works from the inside to control inflammation, so relieving joint stiffness and pain.

Atrogel – Arnica gel for muscle and joint pain

Arnica gel for relief of muscle pains, stiffness, sprains and bruising. 100ml size available.
More info

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