Health / Expert Advice

5 Tips for Healing and Preventing Ankle Sprains

Follow these expert tips to avoid injury and stay physically active year-round.

One second you’re powering through your favorite workout and the next second–snap–you’ve rolled your ankle. You’re not alone. Two million ankle sprains occur in the U.S. per year, according to a Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery study. They account for 30 percent of all athletic injuries. Ankle sprains can occur during any sport or even during everyday life, so it’s crucial to know how to get back to 100 percent as quickly as possible. More importantly than returning to action is preventing ankle sprains and injuries from ever occurring in the first place. There are two main reasons that ankle injuries happen, according to Danielle Phillips, NASM-CPT and New Jersey-based corrective exercise specialist.

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“One reason people injure their ankles is that they don’t do exercises for both dorsiflexion/plantar flexion and lateral rotation to strengthen the ankle joint,” Phillips says. “The other issue is that people wear shoes that are not conducive to the activity they’re doing. People often buy a pair of shoes that look nice or on sale, not realizing that the shoe is designed for a specific reason.”

Read on to find out how to escape the cycle of ankle sprains, and become the best athlete that you can be.

The Problem: I always roll my ankles. This is like my 10th ankle sprain.

The Solution: There are two categories of injury prevention in regards to ankles: proprioception training and myofascial release. Proprioception is the neural process by which the body takes in sensory input from the surrounding environment and integrates that information to produce a motor response. Single leg balancing, balancing on a wobble board or foam pad, and balancing on a single leg while catching/throwing a ball are examples of proprioception training for the ankle joint. Regardless of whether or not you have a history of ankle sprains, doing this type of training can reduce your risk of ankle sprain by 35 percent, according to a 2017 Journal of Athletic Training study.

Another way to prevent ankle sprains and injuries is by getting a form of soft tissue mobilization called compressive myofascial release on your ankle, Achilles tendon, and calf muscles. A 2018 Journal of Athletic Training study found that massaging these areas with knuckles increases dorsiflexion range of motion. This is when the toes point upward towards the shin. A lack of ankle dorsiflexion can lead to ankle sprains in any population. So massage the area using your hands or see a physical therapist/athletic trainer.

As for shoe selection, Phillips says to visit a shoe store that offers gait analysis to figure out how your arches and foot landing will affect your shoe. “A neutral shoe will keep your ankle in a neutral position, while a stability shoe is for people who experience pronation,” says Phillips. “Pronation means [that] the ankle rotates in. A stability shoe will help the ankle roll back out a bit.”

The Problem: I sprained my ankle and it’s swollen and bruised.

The Solution: There are three different categories of ankle sprains­–grade one, two, and three. “Grade one is your typical ankle sprain that requires PRICE (protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation,” says Phillips. “Grade two may include slight tearing of a ligament. Grade three is when the ligament is completely torn.”

If you have a grade one ankle sprain, it should feel better in seven to ten days, if you’re icing it four to five times a day for 20 minutes at a time. If you need to go to the doctor for an ankle injury, you’ll know right away.

“Most people wind up going to the doctor because they think they broke their foot or bottom part of their leg and can’t walk,” Phillips adds. “For grade two and three, you’re not going to ice it. You’re likely going to wind up in the hospital or doctor’s office.”

The Problem: I’m recovering from my ankle sprain, but still feel some instability—it’s not 100 percent.

The Solution: As previously mentioned, proprioception training will be key to returning to true form. Here is a workout to do two or three times a week to recover from an ankle injury and/or prevent one from happening.

Directions: Do these exercises as a circuit, performing one move after the other. Rest, as needed, between exercises and rounds. Do three total rounds. If the ankle can’t take a lot of weight, doing these exercises in the pool will remove some of your body’s weight, allowing for more tolerability.

Exercise: Single-Leg Balance

Duration: 30 seconds
Reps: five on each leg
How to do it: Stand on your right leg with your left knee bent and next to the right knee. The right leg should have a slight bend. Hold for 30 seconds; switch sides.

Exercise: Foot Wall Push

Duration: 10 seconds
Reps: 10 on each side
How to do it: Sit on a chair, straighten your leg, place your foot against a wall and push your foot against the wall. Push the entire foot against the wall for five to ten seconds. Do ten reps, then switch sides.

Exercise: Foot Wall Push with Internal Rotation

Duration: ten seconds
Reps: ten on each side
How to do it: Do the foot wall push, but place your feet against the wall so that they’re internally rotated. This means that your toes are pointed in and your ankles are pointed out.

Exercise: Resistance Band Dorsiflexion and Plantar Flexion

Reps: 8-10 on each side
How to do it: Sit down and straighten one leg. Loop a resistance band around the middle of your foot. Pull it back as you push your ankle against it, then bring your ankle back towards you. You’re essentially bending your foot towards and away from the band.

Exercise: Myofascial Release

How to do it: Use a foam roller, foam ball, your own thumbs, or a fitness professional’s thumbs/knuckles to massage your calves and Achilles tendon. Focus on each side for 30 seconds.

Exercise: Kneeling Towel Ankle Pull

Duration: 30 seconds
How to do it: Kneel on one leg, loop a towel around the top of the back foot, and pull the other end of the towel up. This will stretch your quadriceps and ankles. Push against the towel as you pull it up.

The Problem: I’m an athlete, and I sprained my ankle, but I need to compete in my sport ASAP.

The Solution: First of all, athletes often do a double ankle injury by spraining their ankle then continuing on with whatever they were doing, instead of stopping their sport.

If you’re running and roll your ankle, don’t just ‘walk it off’ and keep going or speed up when the pain subsides,” Phillips says. “Stop, assess the situation, and avoid further damage by discontinuing running immediately.”

If you haven’t seen your doctor, don’t heat the ankle at all. Stick to ice, using a frozen bag of vegetables or an ice bath. As for the protection part of “PRICE”, athletic tape or an ankle brace can provide support if you’re on a fast track back to competition, Phillips says. However, don’t do the ankle strengthening moves with the brace. As for kinesiology tape, “people think it’s a miracle worker” Phillips adds, but she tells clients, “How about I just massage you and save you a small fortune?”

Athletes often want to get back to the heat of action. But more likely than not they are returning too soon after an ankle sprain. Elite level athletes should see a doctor as soon as possible to figure out the grade of the ankle injury. They should do an MRI or CT scan to test for any broken bones or torn ligaments.

The Problem: It’s been two months. My ankle still isn’t 100 percent healed.

The Solution: If you never went to the doctor and decided to deal with the injury on your own, yet it’s still not healed after two months, something isn’t right. You need to see a doctor because your injury is not what you originally thought it was. You probably tore a ligament or fractured a bone, but were somehow still able to bear weight on it. Overall, the best workout you can do is one for your feet, because you’re always on them.

If you do get injured, it’s important to give yourself time to heal, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your fitness routine. Aaptiv has modifiable, low-impact workouts that can be done at-home. 

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