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Proper treatment of an ankle injury can prevent long term problems

Most ankle injuries occur either during sports activities or while running or walking on an uneven surface that forces the foot and ankle into an unnatural position. An ankle injury can happen as a result of:

  • Tripping or falling
  • Landing awkwardly after a jump
  • Twisting or rotating the ankle
  • “Rolling” the ankle

Sports team chiropractors and athletic trainers often tape or brace an athlete’s ankle as a preventive measure before practice or competition, especially for those with a history of ankle sprains. For weekend warriors, the best prevention is to pay attention to your body's warning signs to slow down when you feel pain or fatigue, and stay in shape with good muscle balance, flexibility and strength in your soft tissues. If you experience an ankle injury, treating it the right way is important for preventing chronic pain and instability.


Do know when to see a doctor

Consult with your sports chiropractor, doctor or podiatrist if: you can’t move your ankle; the foot bends at an abnormal angle; or you experience severe pain, coolness, change in color, numbness or tingling in your foot. Also, be alert for redness, swelling or pain in your leg or groin, which can signal a blood clot. In general, you should see improvement in your ankle after one week.

Do rest the injured ankle

Depending on the degree of severity, it’s important to stay off the ankle for 24-48 hours to prevent further damage, which means don’t walk on it and limit weight-bearing. You can use crutches if necessary if you need to get around. Once it is determined that there is no fracture, it should be safe to slowly and gradually put some weight on the leg and get movement back into the ankle.

Do ice the injury

To reduce pain and swelling, put a cold pack or ice compress on the swollen area for 10-20 minutes on, take it off for 10 minutes and repeat again. You should do this for at least two-three days or until the swelling and pain are gone. If it lasts longer than three-four days with no improvement, consult you doctor. Use a thin piece of cloth, such as a pillowcase, between the ice bag and the skin, and don't ice more than 20 minutes at a time to avoid frostbite. You can also use ice massage for two-three minutes at a time.

Do compress the ankle and surrounding area

Use a non-adhesive elastic compression bandage or ankle brace to limit swelling, from the base of the toes to the top of the calf muscle, for the first 24-36 hours. This will help to keep swelling down, as well as immobilize and support your injury if you are going to be on your feet. Otherwise movement is important to healing so at rest, periodic movements can help your ankle heal properly.

Do elevate the injured ankle

Elevate the leg/ankle higher than the trunk to limit swelling two to three hours during the day by using pillows at the foot of the mattress or elevate the end of the bed with securely placed books or blocks of wood. Especially do this at the end of the day or after any physical activity that can increase swelling.


Do not think you can just walk it off

Sprained ankles should not be taken lightly. If ignored or mistreated, they can lead to prolonged discomfort, re-injury, chronic disability and early arthritis -- all of which can compromise or end an athletic career.

Do not suffer in silence

If you have a cast or splint that hurts, pinches or digs into your skin, contact your doctor. The same is true for any compress you apply yourself. It should be snug but not tight enough to cut off circulation or cause discomfort.

Do not ignore warning labels

When you reach for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like ibuprofen or naproxen, to help with pain and swelling, be aware of the potential side effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. NSAIDs should only be taken short term, unless your doctor advises otherwise. Also, they should not be taken on an empty stomach or exceed recommended dosage.

Do not do too much after your recovery

The pain and swelling of an ankle sprain should improve within 48 hours. After that, put only as much weight on your foot as is comfortable, and slowly work your way up to your full weight. If your ankle begins to hurt, stop and rest. You can always do range of motion exercises while your foot hangs over the edge of a bed or table, not bearing weight. An easy exercise is just tracing the alphabet in the air with your foot. For less severe sprains, you may be able to go back to your normal activities after a few days. For more severe sprains, it may take several weeks.

Do not think it won’t happen again

Regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help to minimize your risk of ankle injuries. You can protect your joints in the long term by working to strengthen and condition the muscles around the joint that has been injured. Once you sprain an ankle, it increases the chance of doing the same injury again.

Jumping cartoon

The ankle is one of the most frequently injured parts of the body among athletes. Many fractures and sprains occur during sports. Football players are vulnerable to foot and ankle sprains and fractures; basketball players are prone to ankle sprains; and runners can develop stress fractures of the ankle or foot. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking on the injured leg.

To prevent ankle injury, it’s important to warm up properly! This will help protect your joints by strengthening and conditioning the muscles around them. It is also important to wear appropriate footwear, avoiding running or walking on uneven surfaces and eat a healthy, balanced diet to help keep your muscles strong. And please do not forget to stay hydrated; it helps in so many ways!

More expert advice about Injuries

Photo Credits: andres/; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Dr. Alan K. Sokoloff, D.C., DACBSPChiropractor

Dr. Alan K. Sokoloff, D.C., DACBSP, is team chiropractor for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, ScripHessco strategic partner and owner/clinic director of the Yalich Clinic Performance and Rehabilitation in Glen Burnie, Maryland, where he has practiced...

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