When you hike, backpack or trek on various terrain, one injury that you may experience is spraining an ankle. Knowing how to treat an ankle sprain allows us to be able to make a full recovery within a short period of time and return to physical activity.
Sprains Happen to Anyone
While the injury is very common with athletes because of the very physical nature of sports, anyone can easily sprain their ankle. With long outdoor walks, specially in uneven surfaces or hilly terrain it can become more of a risk. So knowing what to do when you twist your ankle or sprain it allows you to prevent any serious complications later on.
I’ve had my fair share of ankle twists and sprains from traversing uneven land areas or sometimes slipping. The key is to get it properly taken care of quickly and you’ll be back to feeling good in no time.
Diagnosing the Sprain: The First Step
Making a definitive diagnosis is always the first step in any injury. Only when you know what the problem is will be we be able to treat it correctly. Ankle sprains can be a problem because sometimes it is very similar to a fracture.
It’s easy to tell if the broken bone shows itself or there is a deformity as a result of the injury. But other times, it isn’t that obvious and what that’s the case only an X-Ray can make sure that it is only a sprain and not a fracture. So it’s always a good idea to get an X-Ray done if you suspect an ankle sprain.
From experience, I fractures tend to be more painful compared to sprains. They are also more difficult to move or you won’t be able to completely move the joint. Whereas with sprains, it may be painful or tight by you will be able to get a good range of motion. The last difference I’ve seen is there is more swelling and bruising with fractures compared to sprains.
Treating an ankle sprain
When you have an X-Ray done, the attending physician will be able to read the film and:
- Tell you where your injury is.
- They will also inform you whether or not the injury is a sprain or not.
- The third important bit of information you’ll learn is the grade of your sprain.
Sprains are graded from grades I to grade III. Grade I is milder and Grade III is more serious. The higher the grade often means the more ligaments were injured. This also means taking more precautions to stabilize the injured ankle and protect it from aggravation. Higher grade sprains typically take long to heal.
For a Grade I sprain, the R.I.C.E. protocol is often followed. In these types of sprains, swelling goes down after 2 to 3 days and the sprain typically heals after a week or two.
The R.I.C.E. method involves Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
- Rest – means keeping weight off the ankle. This is often done with crutches as it’s the only way to keep the weight off the injured ankle when walking. The rest allows the ligaments to heal without being bothered by carrying the brunt of our body weight.
- Ice – aside from rest, applying ice to the injured area allows the swelling to reduce. We’re often told not to ice for longer than 20 minutes since they don’t want it to feel too numb and also to prevent possible frost bite. Icing also lessens the sensation of pain due to its numbing property.
- Compression – apart from crutches, ankle wraps are often used to wrap an ankle sprain. Wrapping the injured ankle keeps it stabilized so that it doesn’t keep moving. Also, the wrap lessens the amount of swelling. Do make sure that you don’t wrap your ankle too tightly as this can prevent proper blood flow which can cause more serious problems.
- Elevation – means putting the ankle at a level that is above our waist or heart. This often means lying down and resting the leg on something higher. The elevated position lessens swelling.
With Grade II sprains, your physician will have you put on a splint to make sure that the injury is kept in place and immobilized. Because there is more injury to the area, it also takes longer to heal.
Grade III sprains take the longest to heal and most patients are made to use a walking boot which makes sure that the area is protected as well as completely immobilized. Doctors used to put short casts on back in the day but walking boots are easier and more convenient.
Take Care and Go Outdoors
In most cases, ankle sprains are mild injuries that are treated with the R.I.C.E. technique and given a little time to properly heal. The most important with treating ankle sprains is not to worsen it. This means keeping weight off the foot and discontinuing sports or physical activity which can worsen the injury.