If you do any sort of running, chances are you’ll experience (or have already suffered from) an ankle sprain at some point in your athletic career.
Simply but: the ankle is the most common site of joint sprains in the body.
In other words, ankle sprains happens a lot, and they are more common among running folks.
That’s why today I decided to share with you some of my best advice on how to treat and prevent ankle sprains while running.
Not only that, if truth be told, I’m writing these words with a recovering sprained ankle.
Yup. That sucks!
Last week, I went for my weekly trail run. And on the way down, I stepped on a rock and severely sprained my ankle.
I guess I wasn’t paying attention…
I’m not the world expert on preventing (nor treating) sprained ankles. In fact, I’m not the world’s expert on anything.
With that said, my last painful experience forced me to take a week off of training and do some research on the subject.
Now here I’m sharing with you what I learned about the subject (and my painful experience).
Sprains are a Real Nightmare
I don’t sprain my ankle that often, but when I do, it’s a real annoyance.
Runners with an ankle injury are sentenced to take a break from training and spend the upcoming days—even weeks— in agonizing pain whenever they step on the injured ankle.
That really sucks.
Nevertheless, the good news is, with the right management, a runner can soon be back to running strong again.
Here is the complete runners’ guide for treating and preventing ankle sprains.
Hopefully, by the end of this blog post, you will know exactly what to do and how to manage an ankle sprain—without much hassle.
Complete Runners’ Guide For Treating & Preventing Ankle Sprains
Without further ado, here is all what you need to know about treating and warding off ankle sprains for life.
Sprains: a Common Problem
Hence, if you are going through the agony of a sprain—whether due to running or any other activity—don’t feel alone.
The condition is pretty common, but that don’t mean that you should ignore it.
Ankle Sprains Causes
So how do they happen?
A sprain takes place when an ankle ligament—which connects bones to each other—stretches beyond its typical range of motion, tipping on one side or the other and tearing in the process.
Ankle sprains can cause major pain and might put a stop to your training—whether you are a recreational runner trying to keep fit, or an elite competitor getting ready for your next race.
Once you get an ankle sprain, you need to do what I’m sharing with you here so you can get back on track as soon as possible. Otherwise, if you keep ignoring this injury, trouble will follow suit. And you don’t want that. Do you?
Of course, ankle sprains, left untreated, can lead to serious trouble. An often injured ankle can become unstable and weak, preventing any sort of physical activity.
Trail Runners and Ankle Sprains
In my experience, trail running and ankle sprains go hand in hand, and this really sucks…since I’m a true trail junkie.
The trail is not a “clean” route. It’s full of roots, leaves, pothole, and gnarls, thus running over this “uncertain” and unpredictable terrain increases the likelihood that you end up with sprained ankle.
So it’s no surprise that trail runners are some of the most susceptible athletes to ankle sprains. This can be really frustrating especially if you are a trail running enthusiast just like me.
But this does not mean that only trail runners should worry about ankle sprains, roadrunners are also at risk, given the wealth of rocks, ruts, and curbs on the road.
As a result, and truth be told, nobody is 100 percent safe out there. You can get a sprained ankle anytime, anywhere.
Bad History Repeats Itself
Another major root cause of the injury is having a bad history of the condition.
If you had prior cases of ankle sprains, then risks of the reoccurrence of the injury are high.
Having previous cases of the injury can result in impaired coordination and calf tightness that increase the potential for re-injury.
The high occurrence of the condition can also hamper your body’s ability to perceive ankle motion and keep balance.
Why? The reason is quite simple…
According to a study by Stably Garn and Roberta Newton, subjects with a history of two or more sprains on one ankle were significantly worse at balancing and perceiving ankle motion on their injured side when compared to their other side.
In another study, heavy runners with a bad history of the condition were 19 times more likely to suffer from another sprain.
Other causes include:
- Stepping on awkward subjects
- Running in improper shoes
- Landing awkwardly after a jump or long footstrike
- Sprinting with bad form
- Slipping off the edge of a curb
Ankle Sprains Symptoms
It’s easy to know when you have a sprained ankle, as chances are, you’re already familiar with the injury and have had it in the past—regardless of your activity and exercise level.
The usual signs include ankle pain, swelling, and bruising of the entire area. Plus, the inability to walk straight on the injured foot for days, even weeks, to come.
Therefore, if you are a runner, regardless of your training goals, you would need to have a couple of tricks up your sleeves for treating and preventing ankles sprains.
Treatment Of Ankle Sprains
Here is how to treat and recover from a sprained ankle—and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The proper treatment for an ankle sprain depends mostly on how severe you are injured.
There are mainly three levels of severity: Phase I (mild), phase II (moderate), and phase III (severe). For each stage, you will need to take the right recovery steps. And here they are:
Phase I: Mild Sprains
If you are suffering from a mild sprain, the R.I.C.E approach is the way to go. Rest, ice, compress and elevate the injured joint for several days until the pain and swelling go away.
Here is the R.I.C.E. method explained:
Rest. Step back from running and let your ankle rest to prevent any further damage. If you don’t want to rest, then cross-train by opting for low impact activities with minimum strain on the injured foot, such as swimming, spinning, and yoga.
Ice. Ice therapy can reduce the swelling and provide a numbing sensation that will ease the pain.
As a result, ice the injured ankle three to four times per day for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. Just don’t put ice directly on the skin—use a piece of clothing between the skin and the ice bag.
Compress. Immobilize the injured ankle with an elastic bandage or a compression wrap. This will help support the injury and control the swelling. You can use an ankle brace to control the swelling and add more stability while the joint is recovering.
You can also protect the injured ankle from excessive movement using a brace or supportive taping. This is going to help you prevent relapses.
Just make sure not to rely on them too much. Instead, make sure to phase these support out over time.
Elevate. As a final (and optional) step, be sure to elevate the injured ankle—to at least the level of your waist—helping you soothe the pain and reduce the swelling.
Plus, make sure also to stretch and work on strengthening your ankle, but no weight bearing activities for the moment. Wait until the pain has entirely subsided.
Phase II: Moderate Sprains
This is the type of an ankle sprain I got last week, and believe me, mild sprains are really painful and require serious rest and ankle protection.
For a moderate sprain, you will also follow the R.I.C.E. method but allow for more time for recovery. In some cases, a doctor may immobilize your sprained ankle by using a device such as a boot or a splint.
Phase III: Severe Sprains
The name speaks for itself. A severe sprain can involve a complete rupture or tear of the ligament and takes significantly longer to heal.
Hopefully, this is something you will never have to endure.
During advanced stages of the condition, the risks of permanent ankle instability (and damage) are high. In some cases, surgery may be called for to patch up the damage, particularly in competitive athletes.
But for the most part, a doctor may urge you to treat the severe ankle sprain with a short leg cast or walking boot for two to three weeks.
Returning to Running After an Ankle Sprain
Getting back on the running train depends mostly on the severity of your injury. It took me at least 10 days to go back to my previous running routine, but that’s not the case for everybody since not all sprains are created equal (as I have already explained).
In most cases, it may take you from one week to three or even four weeks to get to back to running, depending on how severe you were injured.
Just make sure not to rush it…
Here are some general pointers:
(1) For mild sprains, expect to get back to running after nothing more than a week.
(2) Recovering from a moderate sprain can take up to 10 days to three weeks.
(3) The severe kind will take significantly longer, and you will need the guidance of a health professional to set you on the right path toward getting back on track with your training.
Check Your Ankle
Before you decide to go back to running and head out of the door, your ankle should feel stable enough not to give away.
As a result, make sure that you have a full range of motion in the ankle, excellent muscle power, and control movement.
Also, start off your running pace slowly and gradually. And Expect a loss of endurance—especially after a 10-day or more of a break.
So you will be gradually building your stamina back while slowly getting your recovering ankle into the motion of running.
In case of doubt, start off with some light treadmill jogging to see where you are at. If you feel comfortable and confident enough about your recovery, then take it for a spin.
Prevention Of Ankle Sprains
Prevention is always better than cure.
Luckily, preventing ankle sprains is simple. All you need to do is to abide by these points I’m going to share with you and do your best to integrate them into your running program.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a substantial link between balance and ankle function.
Usually, runners suffering from chronic ankle sprains score low on the balance scale. I’m one of them. I’m usually awkward, and I lack awareness of my body in space.
Therefore, if you are a runner and have suffered from ankle sprains in the past, you should be doing balance training, at least twice a week.
Proprioceptive exercises—a fancy name for balance training—can improve balance, stability and help you get in touch with where your body—mainly your ankle—is at in relation to space.
Study tends to confirm the link between balance and reoccurrence of sprains.
According to study, overweight runners with a history of ankle sprains decreased the rate of re-injury by more than 70 percent after performing balance training on foam stability pads for five minutes on each leg for one month.
Yes, according to this study, just one month of balance training can make a great difference.
If you are confused about which balance exercise you are to do, here are some:
Single Leg Hops. One minute, four reps on each side.
Single Leg Balance. One minute on each side. Aim for three sets.
Single Leg Balance with eyes closed. One minute. Aim for two sets.
Single Leg Balance on Pillow. One minute each side. Aim for three sets.
Besides addressing your balance issues, it is also important that you build proper strength in you lower body—especially the ankle and calf muscles.
So which muscles should you concern yourself with?
Increasing strength in your ankle, especially the tibial anterior—the muscles at the front—and the peroneal—at the outside of the ankle—and calf muscles will improve your stability and balance, helping you prevent injury and also improving running performance as a bonus.
Add strength and power to these key muscles and you could hit the trails without any fear of injury
A great move to help you build strength in that area is single leg calf raises—key for building calf strength in a simple and effective manner. No equipment needed unless you are looking for more challenge.
Single Leg Calf Raises
Add more challenge to calf raises by using dumbbell or a resistance machine—this is especially vital once you have built enough strength and then your calves will be asking for more challenge and workload.
To do them, stand on one leg with a little support if needed. Push up on your toes as far as you can, repeat until you reach muscle fatigue.
In the end, you would want to add a strength session into your training program. You need to build strength in your whole body if you are serious about reaping the maximum benefits from resistance training.
According to countless studies, strength training is the best supplement to running training—and any other training sport. So you should be really hitting the weight room, at least a couple of time a week. If you are looking for a simple strength training program for runners, then check this post: The 7 Strength Exercises Every Runner Should Do.
Other Preventative Measures
Preventing ankle sprains is not just a matter of balance and strength. To really prevent the condition and stay free from it forever—or at least drastically decrease the risks—you would need to take a well-rounded approach to your running. You need to step back and have a complete picture of the different elements affecting your training, and then apply the right training strategies.
Here are some of these training strategies that can help.
Be mindful. Running distracted without taking notice of where you putting your feet is the recipe for disaster. Therefore, be mindful of where you are running and try stay in touch with your running surroundings.
Right surface. As I mentioned before, trail runners are more prone to the condition due the unpredictable terrain. Therefore, stay injury free and stick to proper running routes. Make sure to do the bulk of your training on soft, flat surfaces with as little rocks, potholes and curves as possible.
Proper shoes. It goes without saying. But proper shoes are a key in preventing running injuries—not just the painful ankle sprains. So do yourself a solid and invest in a good pair—it shouldn’t cost you more than a 100$.
Well-rounded training program. Follow a training program that’s main focus is developing total body endurance and strength. Don’t put your eggs in one basket—unless you are competitive runner, and you are doing it for a living. And by the way, even elite runners cross train. So why shouldn’t you?
That’s all I have to say about treating and preventing ankle sprains. Hopefully this has been useful to you.
Please feel free to leave your comments below, or send me your questions and suggestions.
Thank you for reading my post.
Image Credit – Dave Herrick