Gearing up for a trail run always has its risks. One of these risks is ankle injuries. When it comes to running trails, misplaced steps and improper footing are just a fact of life. If your ankles are already weak, it’s only a matter of time before you’re looking for tips to make your feet feel better.
Thankfully, there are many ways to treat an ankle injury. Here are 10 options to treat your ankle sprain and keep you sure-footed on your course to a full recovery.
Not All Sprains Are The Same
The type and severity of your ankle sprain will dictate which treatment options work best for you. Physical Therapists grade sprains based on the tearing of the ligaments around the ankle. This grading starts from the least severe (Grade 1) and climbs to the most severe (Grade 3). Before committing to your own recovery, consider going for an X-Ray. If you cannot walk on your foot, you should have an X-Ray done to make sure your ankle is not fractured. Fractures are serious and must be treated to prevent long-term damage.
1. Hit Pause On Strenuous Activities
“Just walk it off!”
Avoid taking this advice for newly sprained ankles. Trying to do too much, too soon can prolong the recovery time and possibly cause damage to your ligaments. It could also create a long-term weakness that makes you more susceptible to future injuries.
In the first few days following the sprain, try to stay off your feet completely until you can walk with minimal pain. Unfortunately this means pausing all activities until you can be sure your ankle is strong enough to get back into it. Using crutches or a stabilizing boot may be required to reduce pressure across the joint.
2. Bring Down The Swelling
The goal in the first few days post-injury is to control the body’s natural inflammatory response and slow down cellular activity. Applying ice for 20 minutes every hour for the first 2-3 days can help reduce swelling in the area.
An alternative method to traditional ice is Cryotherapy. You can talk to your Physical Therapist about using a Cryotherapy system to deliver therapeutic cold to your ankle. Ankle-conforming wraps can deliver consistent cold and ensure deeper penetration to your ankle joints.
3. Protect Through Compression
Another method for reducing swelling is to use compression. Compression can come from a wide variety of products such as; tensor bandages, braces, supports and compression socks.
The most effective product to keep your ankle secure is an Ankle Brace. Ankle Braces give you the freedom to walk while also keeping a high level of compression and stability. This makes it perfect for anyone on the go! In the days, weeks and months following your injury, your ankle will be fragile and more susceptible to injury. Keeping it secure is an important part of a full recovery.
4. Put Your Feet Up
There’s nothing better than getting home from a long day at work and putting your feet up. When it comes to an ankle injury, you should do this more often! Keeping your foot elevated for the first 3 days can help reduce inflammation in the joints. So feel guilt-free throwing on your favorite TV series and kicking your feet up.
5. Prescribe Responsibly (if necessary)
A sprained ankle is not typically a serious injury, but it can still test your pain tolerance. If you find the discomfort unbearable, consider taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. It may help temporarily relieve pain and swelling.
Most households are equipped with one of the following pain relievers in their closets:
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Naproxen Sodium (Aleve)
Always check to make sure the above medications do not negatively interact with any medication you are currently taking. It should be noted that medication will not heal an injured ankle, only hide the symptoms of the injury! So read on for more lasting approaches.
6. Give Alternative Medicine A Try!
Who doesn’t like a nice bubble bath?
After you’ve brought the swelling down, you can soak your ankle in warm water with Epsom salt. It’s important to note that applying heat too early can contribute to more inflammation. So make sure to wait a few days!
Epsom salt can help soothe sore muscles and connective tissues in your foot. You can soak your ankle once or twice a day as needed. Be prepared for some serious pain relief!
7. Natural Supplements and Topicals (Essential Oils)
Waking up with a stiff, swollen ankle is never a good start to the day. And if you’re like some people, taking medication is not a viable option to ease the pain and swelling. Luckily, there are tons of natural options including; essential oils.
Essential oils can be applied to the skin for both pain control and inflammation reduction. Here is a list of popular oils that will help you feel better.
Essential oils to bring down swelling:
Essential oils to fight away the pain:
8. Household Items as Topicals
A variety of natural anti-inflammatory ingredients can be found in your own pantry!
If you want to try a traditional poultice to help reduce swelling, consider trying turmeric, garlic, onion, castor oil, or olive oil. Gently heat any of these ingredients and apply to a sprained ankle, and then wrap the ankle in a bandage for several hours. You’ll be surprised at the benefits from simple ingredients you use in your cooking.
9. Physical Therapy (when the above doesn’t work)
So you tried being your own Witch Doctor, but you still have aches and pains in your ankle(s) What now?
The next step is to get a professional involved. Namely, you want to book an assessment with a Physical Therapist. A Physical Therapist is a movement expert. They are able to prescribe individual recovery plans based on muscular imbalances, tendon injuries or joint problems.
They make accurate diagnosis’ of what is causing your pain and then lay out a plan to get you back to your active self. Part of what they will give you is exercises and stretches.
While we can’t give you an individual exercise and stretching regimen, we have given you some general movements below to use while you are waiting to see your PT (Physical Therapist).
10. Massage Therapy
Massage Therapy is not only a practice used for relaxation. It can also be used for the treatment and rehabilitation of sprained ankles. More specifically, cross friction massage can help realign new scar tissue. And the best part is, it can be done yourself!
It is recommended to start cross friction massage 7 days after the sprain (or when the massage can be done with minimal pain). Massaging your calve muscles can also help. This might seem counter intuitive, but tight calve muscles can cause early heel lift. This means you will spend more time on your forefoot and incur increased loading on muscles in your feet.
Here is a simple video explaining how to do cross friction massage at home:
Prevention is Key
Prevention is a dimension of ankle care that is often overlooked.
Athlete or not, using the correct shoes, protective gear and equipment makes all the difference. Make sure that you are wearing shoes that fit properly and match the type of trail you are running. A good pair of shoes should fit so well that they are hardly noticeable.
You may also want to consider wearing an ankle brace to prevent ankle rolling.
Ongoing strength and mobility exercises are another important component to ensuring the injury does not reappear. They are security into the future health of your joints and tendons. So take 10-15 minutes per day to invest into your ankles!