Do you want to hear a shocking statistic I read in the New York Times? About 28,000 people get ankle injuries every day in this country. And most of them do it while running or doing other athletic activities. Making sprained ankles the most common sports injury in this country.
But let's look closer to home. If you spread those injuries across the country, about 560 people in Texas hurt their ankles every day. As one of the major cities in Texas, there are probably at least 100 Houstonians twisting their ankles today alone. So why aren’t you seeking the help of a Houston podiatrist like me?
"Walking Off" Ankle Sprains Causes Repeat Injury
There's a lot of you tough guys and girls out there. So, if you haven’t broken a bone, you tell yourself, “It’s just a sprain.” And you keep on hobbling through your daily activities, believing you can walk off the pain. Well I’m here to tell you—stop it! The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) released a statement. And they make it clear that you should never take ankle injuries lightly.
Why? Ankle injuries that aren’t properly treated leave you susceptible to many medical challenges. These include prolonged discomfort, re-injury, chronic disability and even early arthritis. And it's that repeat injury thing I really worry about. Because, once you’ve had one ankle sprain, your body is at higher risk for more. Unless you target that ankle with special exercises. (More about that below.)
What Should You Do if Your Ankle May be Sprained?
If there's any chance you've sprained your ankle, here's what I want you to do.
First, stop and take a break from any movement that hurts. Take a seat and prop your foot up. (Aim to keep it higher than your heart, to prevent swelling.) Now, apply ice to your ankle, wrapping it in a thin cloth to avoid direct contact with your skin. Keep it in place for up to 20 minutes, and repeat this process several times a day. Finally, you can try wrapping your ankle with an ACE bandage to help stabilize the area and further fight swelling.
If, after these actions steps, your pain resolves within the day, chances are you avoided injury. But if you notice even a bit of pain after a day or so, you've likely sprained your ankle. And you need to come into the office right away. Or your injury may not heal well. Which could leave you open to reinjury.
The Risks of Unhealed Ankle Sprains
Your biggest risk for spraining your ankle sprain is having already done so. If that sounds strange, here's the story. After an ankle sprain, something called proprioception weakens your ankle.
Sound fancy? I'll break it down into simpler terms. You see, proprioceptors are sensory neurons. We find them in muscles, tendons and joints. And their job is to keep your body centered as you move, so you don't wobble around. Little kids are still developing proprioception. (That's why they walk like drunken sailors.) But older people start to lose it, which explains why you fall more as you age.
Now, back to those ankle sprains. When you sprain an ankle, you damage your proprioceptors. And that makes it harder for your body to stay upright. So, when faced with obstacles, your ankle is more likely to wobble and get a second sprain. Luckily, you can strengthen that ankle--and heal your proprioceptors. But first, you have to properly heal your ankle injury.
But that's all. After an ankle injury, your risk for arthritis increases. (Especially if you avoid ankle sprain treatment and it doesn't heal well.) The most likely form of trouble would be osteoarthritis, which affects your foot, toe and ankle joints. But if you already have psoriasis, you may increase your risk for psoriatic arthritis. And the early warning signs of this condition include stiff, painful joints, a swollen finger or toe (called dactylitis) or pitting in your toenails.
Ankle Sprain Treatment
Ready for a bit more bad news? I know I told you to try RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation--if you think you've sprained your ankle. But I have to tell you, this home treatment for sprains doesn't work as well as you might think. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the pain also isn’t the best idea, according to NATA’s new study.
So what should you do if you get an ankle injury? Lead author Dr. Thomas W. Kaminski says this. The key to recovering from an ankle injury is to see a podiatrist and get a proper diagnosis.
That way, we can determine the extent of the damage and the best way to treat it. And, one likely way of treating the ankle sprain will be with strengthening exercises. After your inflammation and pain have cleared up, of course!
Ankle Strength Exercise to Prevent Ankle Sprains
Want to get stronger? Try these 3 exercises. Suggested by Coach Tim Grover on Stack.com, they can build ankle strength before you get hurt!
1. Single-Leg Calf Raise
This works the muscles around the ankle. And that helps them better absorb force when you land or change directions.
How to: Perform a Calf Raise on one leg. Once you have reached the top, instead of dropping down and beginning the next rep, focus on taking 5 seconds for your heel to touch the ground again. So 1 second up, 5 seconds down for each repetition.
Sets/Reps: 3x12-15 each leg
2. Single-Leg Ladder Drills
Performing speed ladder drills on one leg trains your ankles to absorb your body weight in every direction.
How to: This is where you can become creative. Using a speed ladder, warm up using both feet. Once you are warm, do each sequence with only one foot. Try doing a few hops—then stop, go sideways, backwards, and side to side. The possibilities are endless, but make sure you only use one leg at a time and end up with equal exercises for both legs.
Sets/Reps: 15x ladder (choose different patterns)
3. Plate Raise
This will strengthen the muscles on the front of your shins, which help stabilize your ankles.
How to: Begin with a 10-pound plate. While standing, place the corner of a plate over your toes, then dorsiflex your foot to raise the plate with your toes. Increase the weight of the plate as tolerated, but focus on going one second up, then slowly lowering it back down for five seconds.
Now, these ankle strength exercises may help with prevention. But they aren't foolproof. So, if you're worried that your unfortunate ankle twist caused a sprain, don’t walk through the pain. Schedule an appointment at Tanglewood Foot Specialists as soon as you suffer an ankle injury. We'll begin immediate ankle sprain treatment to prevent further injury or permanent damage to your ankle or foot.