Sprained Ankle
Credit: Louis Solis

How to get better FAST from your ankle sprain!

It seems that anyone involved in any sort of sporting activity will eventually have the painful experience of a sprained ankle.  I have had 2 major sprains and a number of minor sprains that help me understand just how uncomfortable they can be.  Every step hurts, and you begin to wonder if you will ever run again.  Most of the time, it just takes 1-3 weeks to clear up, but here are some things that can really help decrease that healing period.

  1. RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)  I know that this is probably common knowledge, but I want to be specific. 
    1. Rest—It is absolutely, without a doubt, ESSENTIAL to rest from any aggressive activities during the very acute stages of an ankle sprain.  For very minor sprains, 1-3 days will suffice.  For very major sprains, this period will continue for up to 2-3 weeks.  You can judge the severity by the pain, swelling, and rate of healing. 
    2. Ice—The big principle with icing is to try to decrease the initial inflammatory reaction by decreasing the temperature with ice.  KEY POINT: Do not get frostbite.  I recommend people only ice for 15 minutes at a time, with 45 minutes off (1x/hour).  You can be more aggressive (15:15 On:Off), but keep a close eye on your skin.  NEVER sleep with the ice on.  I had a friend in high school who fell asleep with the ice on her calf and woke up with a HUGE frost blister extending the entire length of the ice pack.
    3. Elevate—Elevate while you ice.  Do your best to elevate as often as possible while it’s still swollen.  You should try to keep your ankle above the level of your heart for the most effective swelling control.
    4. Compression—Find an ACE wrap that still has some stretch left in it, and start wrapping from your toes sequentially up toward your knees.  Don’t wrap tight enough to cut off the blood supply, but it should be snug.
    5. Support—Most of the time, a simple lace-up ankle wrap will be sufficient to offer you support as you progress on your road to healing.  If that doesn’t feel like it supports your ankle enough, there are bigger braces with metal rods and plastic portions, but these are hard to fit in your shoe.  If you can’t put a shoe on, then what good will the brace do you?  Many athletes choose to have their ankles taped before sporting events, and this can be a great way to prevent future ankle sprains.  However, it is time consuming and requires that you have a friend or coach that is skilled in taping ankles.
    6. Time—This means that you need to give your ankle the appropriate amount of time to heal before loading it with aggressive sporting activities.  I know that most athletes want to be back in the game ASAP, but patiently waiting 2 days without stressing the injured tissue can shave a week off of the total rehab time.  Gradually working back into activity is very challenging for my athletes—the moment they start feeling better, they are 110% running up the court.  Moral of the story: give the appropriate time before diving back into aggressive activity.

While ankle sprains represent a large proportion of sporting injuries, they are often only a small bump in the road.  These suggestions may not seem very sophisticated, but they are the simple truth.  If you have any concerns about fractures or your ankle just doesn’t seem to be getting better like it should, get in to see your health care provider.