Healing your ankle injury at home will be influenced by the type of injury you’re dealing with. Fractures and dislocations should both be responded to with greater immobilization while sprains, bruises, and tendonitis may be better treated with compression. Each injury has it’s own estimated healing time, but you can accelerate the process by tending your injury carefully, eating the right foods, and doing recovery experts.
Tendonitis in the Ankle
Always Follow Your Doctor’s Orders
Some ankle injuries are mild, and you can heal them at home without special treatment. Others need direct medical treatment before you can start at-home recovery. After an injury, you should always go see your doctor and have it examined, just in case the injury is severe or the damage is worse than it seems.
From there, do everything your doctor suggests. If your ankle is broken or dislocated, your doctor may need to set it carefully and then immobilize it before you’re safe to go home and start self-care. If the ankle is fractured, you may need a cast or a fully immobilizing brace. If there is an external injury that tore the skin or bad enough internal damage, you may need a prescription for antibiotics. Doctors also sometimes prescribe over the counter medications to patients for at-home recovery.
You should also listen to the treatment approach suggested by your doctor. Likely, you will be given a certain number of days or weeks to stay off the ankle, then to take it easy wearing a brace. Your doctor may take the time to explain the RICE method for treating the swelling and promoting healing, but if not, we’ll do that next.
Smartly Use RICE for Home Treatment
Once you’re at home, you’re free to handle your recovery according to doctor’s orders and whatever works best for you. Some patients fashion grabbers and build a recovery fort on the couch. Some become crutch-pros at hopping around the house with one or both crutches. But ultimately, what’s important is that you follow the RICE method for taking care of your ankle during the early and middle phases of recovery.
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This simple combination is the key to encouraging your ankle to heal quickly. Essentially, it comes down to inflammation control, blood promotion, and keeping off the ankle so it can heal.
Rest is the easiest part of the equation to understand and the hardest to achieve. We live active lives, and it’s hard to keep off an ankle. Whether you’re going to work, making dinner, or even just reaching for the too-far remote, we’ll often forget and step down on an injured ankle. It’s vital that you give your ankle time to heal by staying off it for a few days or weeks depending on the injury.
Use crutches if you have to, and let the compression of a brace or cast remind you that the ankle is a no-go for taking steps.
Ice / Heat
The I in RICE stands for Ice, but the complete method starts with ice and ends with heat. Why? Inflammation and blood flow.
When your ankle is first injured, it swells up with blood. This is good at first; it protects the wound and promotes healing. But too much inflammation causes tenderness, immobility, and a greater chance of reinjuring the ankle or healing in an inflexible state. You need to bring down the blood flow to the ankle with compression and cold to reduce the inflammation.
Apply ice or cold packs wrapped in towels. Hold ice to your ankle for 30 minute periods every two hours. Use elastic bandages or compression braces continuously to reduce swelling and pain.
After the ankle has stopped swelling on its own, heat should be applied instead. Heat relaxes the muscles and tendons, which can ease pain and make recovery exercises more possible. The heat also promotes blood flow. After swelling has subsided, this effect is helpful and can accelerate the healing process.
Compression is a smart recovery decision for two reasons. First, compression prevents swelling from getting too bad. When there’s nowhere for your ankle to swell into, the blood has to disperse instead of puffing up around the injury. Compression can help you reduce and control swelling throughout your recovery, and any time swelling occurs in the future.
Compression can also play a vital role in holding your ankle in place as you recover. Softer than a rigid brace but more supportive than a shoe, a compression bandage can hold your ankle at a specific angle and provide padding to help prevent additional bumps as you heal. Even an elastic bandage can temporarily serve the purpose of supporting and padding your ankle.
Elevating your ankle reduces blood flow to it during a critical time and prevents blood from pooling. Slow blood flow near an injury can result in clots, especially near your feet where gravity is not on your side. By elevating your ankle, you promote blood to flow back up your leg away from the injury and can discourage inflammation.
In fact, the longer you need to rest and immobilize your ankle, the more important elevation is for blood health. Elevation keeps your blood moving away from the ankle and back up the leg. You want your thighs at about 45-degree angle and the knees at 15 to 30 degrees. This will place your feet several inches above your heart, but a different level for each person based on height and leg length.
Elevate for 30 minutes ever 2 hours or as needed during immediate recovery and long rest periods.
Eat Healing Foods
You can also accelerate healing by choosing how to eat. You don’t have to adopt some crazy diet, just lean your food choices toward items that are higher in healthy proteins, minerals, and high-energy calories.
Stay hydrated. The best way to do this is with water, milk, citrus juice, and brothy soup. Healthy proteins like lean chicken and red meat are important because muscles and connecting tissue neat protein to build new healing tissue. You should also load up on foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. By eating the right foods, you can make it easier for your body to build new tissue and get strong faster.
Recovery Food Tips:
Milk & Orange Juice
Fresh Beef Burgers and Steaks
Salmon, Tilapia, and other Fish
Spinach, Carrots, Kale, Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Green Beans, Cauliflower, Kelp, Bok Choy
Strawberries, Blueberries, Citrus Fruits
When to Use Crutches and Braces
One of the most important aspects of ankle healing is using a brace. Whether you suffered a minor sprain or a serious fracture, your ankle will need to be immobilized, supported, and protected during healing. But you may also need to keep completely off your foot during the early stages of recovery. For this, you will need crutches to get around. Fortunately, crutches that are properly sized and padded can be a great deal of fun and even faster than normal walking.
If your doctor says, “Stay off the foot,” then crutches are probably necessary. You can also choose to make use of crutches to increase rest and accelerate healing.
Braces, on the other hand, are helpful at every stage of healing. But the right brace can change over time. An immobilizing brace can protect your ankle and hold it into the correct position for healing a severe injury. Hinged braces can allow you to move around while keeping your ankle within a safe range of motion. And structured or padded braces can help to hold your ankle firmly and apply compression.
Stretching and Recovery Exercises
As your ankle recovers, stretching and exercises become very important. Stretching will ensure that the new tendon or muscle tissue does not grow back short and easy to tear. When you stretch, you ensure new tissue is long and flexible so that you can get back to normal activity quickly.
Strength exercises also contribute to your recovery. As new tissue grows to heal the damage, you can train it to be strong and to pump fresh blood through the area as you stretch. Consult your doctor and work with a physical therapist to stretch out and exercise your ankle safely during recovery.
Getting Back to Work After an Ankle Injury
Whether you’re missing a favorite workout or just want to get back to work without re-injury, it’s important to know when it’s safe to return to normal ankle function. Keep your doctor in the loop and treat your ankle well. As the pain fades, use stretching and exercise to help your ankle return to full function.
When you no longer feel pain, and your ankle comfortably holds weight, wait another two weeks before doing anything strenuous like leaping, climbing, or carrying heavy objects. Get final approval from your doctor to approve a full range of exercise and labor, and then you’re good to go.
Recovering from an ankle injury can seem like it takes forever. The best thing you can do for yourself is to treat the ankle carefully while you’re at home. Use the RICE method and a robust diety to help your body heal more quickly. Use crutches and braces to protect your ankle and keep weight off it during recovery. And remember to stretch and do strength exercises as your healing completes. For more tips and guides on healing up from an injury, contact us today!