Over 25,000 people sprain or twist their ankle every day in the United States. While our ankles are one of the sole reasons, we as humans are capable of moving around, they are not to be abused, and it’s important to know how ankle injuries can happen, how to prevent them from happening, and how to properly manage them when they do occur.
What is an Ankle? What’s it Made of?
The ankle is one of the most important joints in the lower body. It connects the foot to the leg, and in doing so bears much of the body’s weight during standing, walking, running, and other upright movements.
The ankle is made up of a codependent network of skeletal and muscular structures, specifically, bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. While the ankle is technically composed of a number of joints, it’s easier to understand it as one cohesive joint structure.
Some of the most common forms of injury regarding the ankle include acute skeletal breaks and fractures, muscular sprains, and chronic injury in the form of joint impingement or instability. Acute injuries such as breaks, fractures, and sprains (by far the most common) often happen during exercise, especially movements that involve pressing unequally on the heel or toes, stepping on uneven surfaces, or making hard landings.
Ankle sprains occur when the Lateral Collateral (LCL) or Medial Collateral Ligaments (MCL) that stabilize the joint are pushed or pulled past their normal range of motion, causing stretching and potentially tears. Particularly bad or untreated ankle sprains can become chronic, and lead to issues like joint misalignment also known as impingement, or chronic instability.
The ankle is a complex joint made up of many working parts including skeletal and muscular structures. Find out more about the ankle’s anatomy here.
Most ankle injuries are sprains and happen due to rolling or twisting motions. If you’re experiencing ankle pain and looking for remedies, make sure to read through to the section on Healing and Rehabilitation below.
Proper Clothing and Equipment
One of the most effective ways to prevent ankle injury is by making sure to utilize the proper clothing and equipment for maximum support during dynamic activities. Everyone from the avid walker to the professional athlete can benefit from wearing the right gear for their chosen activities.
Compression clothing fits tightly to the body’s muscles and joints to provide support, as well as pressure that has been shown to increase blood flow during and after workouts, thus shortening recovery times. Some compression clothing has built in padded protection for joints in high impact exercise settings. Most compression clothing is also breathable and moisture wicking, which can reduce the wearers risk of dehydration, one factor that can make ligament more prone to strain.
Braces and Supports
An important consideration in ankle injury prevention and rehabilitation is providing proper joint support and stabilization. The first line of defense here is a strong, sturdy shoe with good treads, and built specifically for the sport or activity you wish to engage in. In repetitive, high impact activities like basketball or trail running, it’s especially important to wear a shoe that’s made in preparation for the kind of complex movements you’ll be performing.
When compression clothing and sturdy shoes aren’t providing the needed support, or during rehabilitation from a prior ankle injury, braces and other supports can be an effective addition. Most ankle injuries call for the use of a soft brace when first returning to exercise or training routines, and many athletes injured or injured make use of braces other supportive aids such as kinesiology tape, as an extra safeguard against injury. Both braces and kinesiology tape can be used in a similar fashion to apply compression, support beneficial movements, and limit detrimental movements during and after exercise.
Massage can be an effective method for stimulating muscle healing and recovery from normal soreness and other sports related muscle injury. And as much as we’d all love to, going to a professional masseuse isn’t always an option. Fortunately, there’s a variety of widely available massage equipment for solo use or with a friend or partner.
One of the hallmarks of effective massage is the application of deep pressure often along with movement in precise locations on the body. This can be done with your hands, a massage roller, or even a regular tennis ball. Keep in mind that massage isn’t recommended during the first 48 to 72 hours after an acute injury.
Healing and Rehabilitation Methods
One easy at home method for rest and recovery that’s applicable to almost all injuries, including acute and chronic ankle pain goes by the simple acronym RICE.
R: Rest – Relax, get some rest, and try to refrain from putting any further stress on the injury site.
I: Ice – Apply Ice or another cool compress to the affected area to reduce swelling and numb the injury site. It’s usually recommended to only ice for 10–15-minute increments.
C: Compression – Aid movement and reduce swelling by using tape, elastic bandage, or wraps on the affected area. Compression can stabilize and support your ankles, taking the load off your muscular and skeletal structures, and in turn allowing for more comfortable and effective rest.
E: Elevate – By elevating the affected body part above the rest of the body, blood flow can be controlled, and much like the effects of icing, reduce swelling and pain at the injury site
Motion and Stretching Exercises
In order to reduce potential long-term effects of ankle injury, and hasten recovery, it's important to include motion and stretching into your rehabilitation practice. These exercises should focus on retraining balance, mobility, and flexibility in the ankle joint and ligaments. In order to properly address these goals, stretching should be incorporated as a warm-up, followed by mobility exercises in a high rep range (15-20 repetitions per set) to prioritize proper form and muscular endurance and avoid overloading the ankle during the healing process.
While it’s often best to start rehabilitation exercise with a focus on regaining range of motion, it can also be crucial to rebuild base strength in the ankle before returning to daily exercise or training. Base strength can fortify the ankle joint during repetitive movements and reduce the risk of re-injury.
In order to get the best result, strength exercise should be incorporated into the middle of successful stretching and mobility training regiments. Strength training prioritizes muscle growth and should thus be performed in a low-medium rep range (5-10 repetitions per set) to prioritize slightly higher loads, and muscular hypertrophy (or muscle growth).
OTC and Professional Medication
There’s many over-the-counter products and treatments available for ankle pain and general joint pain. The most common examples are NSAIDs or Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as Advil, Aspirin, Aleve, and Motrin. These options vary slightly in their effects but are a generally safe way to address short term pain without a doctor's prescription.
Although, when used frequently or in high doses, NSAIDs can increase risk for certain side effects such as ulcers, as well as kidney and liver damage. For this reason, many patients with chronic pain prefer topical pain relief solutions such as Ice Plus Spray that utilize organic compounds like menthol and capsaicin.
Professionally Prescribed Medication
In more severe, or chronic injuries, a medical professional may prescribe medications such as opiate painkillers, or corticosteroid injections. Every medication has its pros and cons and it’s always best to adhere to your doctor’s prescriptions and recommendations.
When should I call my doctor for ankle pain?
Ankle pain can vary immensely in its severity and urgency. A good rule of thumb is you should get a doctor involved if you experience the following: severe ankle trauma, visible changes after the initial injury event, increased swelling or numbing, fever symptoms, or generalized pain in both ankles at once. All of these signs could point to more severe health issues and should be examined by a professional.
Get Back on Your Feet with Ice Plus
One of the hardest parts of recovery from ankle injuries can be the pain experienced during daily life. It may not be completely debilitating, but slow acting NSAID pain relief can leave you waiting, wishing there was a better way. Ice Plus spray pain relief uses fast-acting menthol & research-tested menthol-based ingredients to provide a cooling sensation to relieve soreness in just minutes after application. Whether the pain is from exercise, sprains and strains, or a fracture, applying Ice Plus allows menthol’s cooling properties to temporarily desensitize nerve endings, decrease blood flow to the problem area, and stop pain cold. Visit Ice Plus Pain Relief for more information about your muscle & joint relief today!
The information on Ice Plus Magazine Blog is provided for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to diagnose, endorse, cure, or treat any medical or other condition. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professionals and ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your medical condition. Ice Plus and the Editors are not responsible for the accuracy of information provided to the Ice Plus Magazine Blog by contributing authors and institutions or for the use of any information on Iceplusrelief.com. Thank you for reading our blog. You can shop for all Ice Plus Relief products here.