Properly treating ankle pain

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Runners, joggers and walkers can all attest to the unfortunate experience of dealing with ankle pain. Whether it’s sprains or bruises, sore ankles are easily one of the most common injuries athletes will encounter. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s estimated that nearly 25,000 Americans suffer an ankle sprain every day, and ankle-related accidents account for almost half of the reported sport injuries. While there are many factors that can cause ankle pain, there are also a vast variety of recommended ways to treat any sprains, bruises or general pain. Everything from adequate stretching to massage therapy has been proven to help ankle injuries. Here’s what any athlete needs to know about diagnosing and treating ankle pain:

Recognizing ankle pain

Your ankle is an extremely complex network of muscles, bones and ligaments, and there can be a variety of causes of pain. Think about all the stress we put on our ankles. Every step you take is placing all the weight of the body upon the ankles, which only increases in force if you’re running. The Mayo Clinic lists dozens of factors that play into experiencing ankle pain, ranging from stress fractures and sprains to even Achilles tendon ruptures. However, the American College of Sports Medicine reports that 80 percent of all ankle sprains is the result of an inward rolling of the ankle. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society defines an ankle sprain as one or more ligaments on the outer side of the ankle being torn or stretched. The tricky thing with ankle pain is that once you’ve experienced an injury, your ankle is more susceptible to enduring damage in the future, especially if you continue to play sports or work out. This is why ignoring treatment of ankle injuries is extremely discouraged.

Initial treatment

Acting quickly is essential when it comes to addressing ankle pain. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society has a specific action plan for any athlete who thinks he or she is experiencing an ankle sprain, which they’ve titled as the acronym RICE, defined as the following:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevate

These are the first steps in any ankle-related athletic recovery. First off, rest specifically means not putting any weight on your injured ankle. Use crutches if you need to move around, and once you feel the ankle getting better, slowly progress to putting weight upon it. Icing is used to control swelling, but this step is often misused. For starters, you should never put ice directly on the skin, and never ice your ankle for more than 20 minutes, as this could cause frost bite. Always place a thin layer such as a towel or rag between your skin and the bag of ice.

Compression is also necessary for controlling swelling, and you should properly wrap your ankle in compression tape starting from the top of the heel all the way down to behind the toes. Finally, elevating the ankle is what helps reduces the amount of blood flow heading to the injury, which in turn reduces swelling. The Marshfield Clinic recommends keeping your ankle at least 12 to 18 inches above your heart while you’re resting.

After RICE

After you’ve spent a few days adhering to the guidelines of RICE, you still are probably a long way away from getting back out to the gym or track. The next step for addressing a minor ankle sprain is beginning to restore everything from flexibility and strength to range of motion. The secret to this is quick and easy ankle stretches. Slowly testing the limits of your ankle means spending some time performing everything from foot curls to holding your ankle in a variety of turned positions. When you begin noticing your ankle is getting back to full strength, slowly integrate long walks or slow jogs into your workout routine. Remember, rushing back to full-on workouts is what causes repeated injury.

Massage therapy

If you’re trying to seek assistance in improving the range of motion in your ankle after an injury, then receiving a massage just might be what the doctor ordered. Massagetherapy.com recommends a combination of deep massage and friction therapy, which will work to stimulate recovery speed by reducing swelling through constricting blood flow to the injury. This technique has also been noted to potentially decrease the chances of scar tissue accumulating around the ankle.

Rehabilitation

An ankle injury essentially never goes away, and you might find that after a severe sprain or tear, your ability in a sport or exercise just might not ever be the same. This is where finding more low-impact workouts can be extremely beneficial to your athletic recovery. Take up cycling or swimming activities, which still provide an excellent cardio workout while putting minimal stress and pressure upon your ankle.

Jill Lohmann is a Director of Operations for Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers and a certified physical therapist. Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers is a physical therapist owned and operated rehabilitation company with a network of 170 outpatient rehabilitation centers located throughout the Midwest, Arizona and Georgia.

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