The runners, triathletes and weekend warriors (and there are a lot of them) at University Foot & Ankle Institute know that spraining an ankle is way more than just a pain. It’s a disruption to your training routine and can really thwart your season’s plans and make weekends a lot less enjoyable. The healing process takes time, and without your daily or weekly run, you might be feeling bored, lazy, or unfocused. Here is a step-by-step guide to surviving and thriving during your 2-6 week hiatus.
Step 1: Take it easy
Yes, that means YOU. We know how hard it is to sit on the couch, dwelling on all the miles you could be logging if you weren’t hurt. But you’re going to need to rest your ankle in order to heal properly and avoid future injuries. Think of this period as an investment, not a vacation.
For the first day or two, use the RICE method. You know the one: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Keep off your ankle and use crutches if you need to get around. While sitting or sleeping, elevate your ankle and keep a cold pack on it for 15-minute intervals. Use a compression stocking or wrap to keep the swelling down.
Oh, and don’t forget to check in with your friendly neighborhood foot and ankle specialist for a full diagnosis. That’s what we’re here for!
Step 2: Point-and-Flex
Once you can bear weight on your ankle, you can start working on increasing your range of motion. A good way to start is with a simple point-and-flex exercise while seated. Once that becomes more comfortable, you can focus on recovering your finer coordination skills by spelling out words with your feet on an invisible chalkboard.
Continue elevating and compressing, and stay off of the ankle as much as you can.
Step 3: Get moving
Just because you can’t run or walk, doesn’t mean you have to be sedentary. Talk with your physical therapist about ways you can get some exercise without posing a danger to your ankle. Think of this as an unexpected opportunity to build your upper body strength and explore new activities.
Swimming is the choice recovery activity for the pros – it works more muscle groups than almost any other activity and it’s a low impact (read: low risk) activity. Better yet, you can do it while enjoying the summer sunshine. You can also try weight lifting machines, battle-rope exercises, and boxing while seated.
Exercising while injured keeps your blood circulating and your metabolism burning. It also floods your system with endorphins, which can help you keep your spirits up while you recover.
Step 4: Build ankle strength
Are you bearing weight? Is your ankle moving freely? It’s time to start re-building those ankle muscles. Use resistance exercises to bring your ankle back to its pre-injury strength.
Exercise 1: Press your foot downward and inward against a wall or coffee table, then flex it up and outward. Alternate directions to point towards the other two corners, and repeat every 15 seconds for 10 sets.
Exercise 2: Loop a resistance band around the ball of your foot and hold the other end with your hand. Point and flex your foot against the elastic pressure in every direction.
Step 5: Make smart goals and ease into your routine
Once you get the green light from your foot and ankle specialist to start training again, take it slow and set goals for yourself. Intersperse short intervals of weight-bearing exercises into your alternate, post-injury routine. Elliptical machines, bikes, and treadmills are going to be your best friends during this period. All of these can be easily adapted to the level of intensity you feel comfortable with.
Continue increasing the intensity of your lower-impact activities and the duration of your weight-bearing exercises. As you work your way up to running, avoid uneven surfaces – like dirt trails – until after you’ve made a full recovery. Stick with turf tracks and pavement for a few weeks.
And of course, keep your foot and ankle specialist updated on your progress! We love to hear from you about your road to recovery.
As a teaching institution, University Foot and Ankle Institute’s Fellowship Program is among the most advanced in the nation.
We at UFAI are driven to get our patients back to their normal activities with the highest level of function, in the least amount of time, using the least invasive treatments possible. From start to finish, we are with you every step of the way.
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