Save Yourself Time...Treat It Right, Part 1

Yikes. It happened. You sprained your ankle. I think we have all experienced it at least once. It always happens at the most inconvenient time too. The number one goal after an ankle sprain is to get it healed. Fast.

Good thing you know exactly what to do…

Or do you?

Well, what if I told you the doctor who developed R.I.C.E said this:

Coaches have used my “RICE” guideline for decades, but now it appears that both Ice and complete Rest may delay healing, instead of helping.”Gabe Mirkin, MD, March 2014

Hmm. Science changed and evolved. So, what do you do to get better?

Let me arm you with the knowledge so you’re in the know and can save yourself precious time. Life is busy. You want to heal and get on with life, not deal with a prolonged injury.

1.       Ditch the crutches

The majority of ankle sprains benefit from having compression through weight bearing. Crutches are unnecessary in the majority of cases and actually limits healing. A good supportive shoe, such as a gym shoe is the best. If you are unable to walk on it, use one crutch on the opposite side to assist in reducing the amount of weight placed on it.

Attempting to walk with a normal walking pattern, us medical people call it “gait” is ideal. You may feel silly and as though you are over-emphasizing the heel-to-toe pattern. It’s the right way though. Putting weight on the joint and the motion of the foot aids in a muscle pumping action which helps the lymphatic system process any swelling.

2.       Ice only if painful

Ok, so if there is swelling I need to ice it. Right? Well…don’t hate me for my honesty, but no. As explained in a previous post, ice can delay healing. Check out the earlier post here. You can use ice if you need to reduce pain, but do know you are trading off the possibility of delayed healing.

3.       Skip the air cast

I know, it’s tradition though, right? Every time I sprained my ankle in high school, I was given an air cast and crutches too. I’m sure I’m not alone. The only time I would advise wearing one is if you were given it by an Orthopedic Doctor or Podiatrist. In that case, there’s a reason and it’s truly valid. Severe grade III sprains or an injury that may be pending surgery is a different story than the average ankle sprain. Movement is your friend.  

You might be wondering….so can I run? Exercise?

The answer to this depends on the severity of the sprain. Typically, you can allow pain and swelling to be your guide. Watching how your body responds will guide you. Also, use common sense. If you have more pain after walking around and standing for the day…do not run.

If you feel the need to exercise, try the bike or rower first. If your body responds ok then the next workout, try the elliptical or something more weight bearing. You can always still lift weights in modified positions (seated/bench/etc).

Treat It Right:

1.       Move. It’s natural. Walk and try to avoid changing your normal pattern.

2.       Use ice and over the counter pain medicine ONLY as needed for pain. Both have been shown to delay healing so don’t use unless necessary.

3.       Swelling is your body’s way of healing, it’s ok. However, a big increase in swelling means you over-did-it. Ease off your activity level the next day.

4.       Watch your volume of activity when you return. Allow it to be gradual. Do not go run 5 miles the first day you have no pain and swelling.

Your time is precious, maximize your healing by using this advice so you can live life unrestricted.

Remember this is general advice and not specific medical advice prescribed to you. If you are unsure the severity of injury or symptoms are unchanged after a few weeks seek out a Physical Therapist near you.

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Dr. Shari, Orthopedic Physical Therapist