As far as ankle injuries go, sprains are by far the most common sort of injury that any active person will experience. They can occur during pretty much any activity regardless of how fit or prepared a person is. So everyone is at risk. If you ask around, just about everyone you know has probably rolled their ankle at least once. With all the hiking in Oregon and around Eugene, chances are you know someone dealing an ankle sprain right now!
Managing an ankle sprain depends on the severity. Sprains can occur when someone breaks an ankle, but those cases require medical management beyond what this article will discuss. In terms of sprains without a break, one important factor is reducing stress to the ligaments. In severe cases – significant pain and swelling – that might mean using crutches and to avoid walking on that foot until the pain has improved (which may take a few weeks). For less severe sprains it might be as simple as taking a couple days off from whatever lead to the injury.
No matter the severity, prioritizing getting back to activity, maintaining ankle mobility and strength, and improving balance should be the main focus. Sprains themselves aren’t typically a long-term issue, but they can lead to chronic issues. When a ligament is stretched out, it doesn’t regain the tension it previously had, which is perfectly fine. The issue is that the ankle joint now has a support structure that is slower to cue your brain to keep the ankle from rolling again.
The purpose of your foot is to provide a soft surface for your body to land and then become a rigid lever to propel your body forward. All of the structures in your foot, including your ligaments, muscles, and joints, have a sensation called proprioception. This is basically your body’s sense of position. An example is that you know if your elbow is bent or straight, you don’t have to look at it to know, your sense of proprioception tells you. When a tissue, like a ligament, is stretched, it takes more time for that tissue to communicate and lead to a muscle contraction. That issue can in turn lead to more ankle sprains because the ankle isn’t able position itself as quickly.
Proprioception can be trained though! Balancing activities, like standing on one leg, help develop the body’s proprioception. Developing strength in the ankle, knee, and hips through movements like calf raises, lunges, and hopping helps strengthen the tendons and muscles that will keep the ankle joint stable. Building up to some of these activities as the pain and swelling decrease will help train the proprioception in your ankle.
Be aware that just because the swelling in the ankle is gone it doesn’t mean that the ankle is healed! You need to make sure that you work on your balance and strength to keep your ankles strong and healthy. Preventing an ankle sprain is better than trying to recover from one, after all.
Got questions? Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to be limitless.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.