Ankle injuries are among the most likely to reinjure after an initial injury. Some ankles never fully heal and are at a greater risk of reinjury for many years after an initial injury. But this is also a problem simply because we use our ankles so much. It’s actually easier to protect a knee than an ankle because we step down with the foot and then remember that the leg is supposed to be out of commission. Worse, your ankle is at the end of your leg and is therefore unfortunately easy to jostle.
Anyone who’s ever recovered from an ankle injury knows that there’s an unusually high risk of having your ankle kicked or knocking your ankle against things. In addition to the constant temptation to take a step as if your ankle weren’t injured. Ankle reinjury is common and when your ankle is still recovering from a recent injury, you are at incredibly high risk of reinjury.
Today, we’re here to help you prevent injuring your ankle any further when you’re already recovering from an ankle injury.
1. Ice It Down
Believe it or not, the best place to start in protecting your ankle is to apply ice regularly. Keeping the swelling down is critical for reducing just how easily your ankle can be reinjured. The reason for this is that swelling actually increases the chances of reinjury because it makes your ankle more tender. You may have noticed that when your ankle swells up, it becomes more tender. It actually hurts much worse than if you keep the swelling down, including the soft tissue where your ankle injury occurred. A swollen ankle also has a harder time managing if you accidentally step.
Icing down your ankle is something that should be done carefully and persistently according to the RICE injury recovery method. It’s a good idea to also combine rice, compression, and elevation. But ice is what best reduces the blood flow that causes swelling. Apply ice or a cold pack, wrapped in a towel, for thirty minutes at a time. Any longer and you can cause damage the other direction. Wait at least an hour between thirty-minute icing sessions. This is sometimes stated as icing 30 minutes out of ever 2 hours.
2. Prop It Up
Elevation is the next smart thing to do. When your ankle is injured and likely in a brace or wrapped in an elastic bandage, you tend to stick it out. At your desk, in a restaurant, sitting on your couch, we stick out the injured ankle to avoid putting weight on it and accommodate the stiff wrapping. Unfortunately, our instinctive position for an injured ankle is also the cartoon trip-up pose. And people do trip. An ankle stuck out but with the heel resting on the ground is much more likely to be kicked and knocked by regular movement through the room.
So how do you protect your ankle? Elevate it. Take the time to build up a stack of cushions or set up an extra chair to prop your ankle up on. It may feel unnecessary or making a to-do of your injury, which we’re trained not to do from an early age. But trust us, it’s worth avoiding the pain and reinjury risk of having your ankle kicked or serve as a trip-hazard while you heal.
Propping your ankle up will also help you remember not to just stand up, as you’ll need to take the extra step of lowering your ankle to the ground. We suggest you keep a small pillow or folded sweater to make propping on whatever is available more comfortable.
3. Wear a Brace
Most of us rely on an elastic bandage to hold a healing ankle in place. They’re simple and most homes or workplaces have one in the first-aid kit. An elastic bandage is a good starting point, especially right after the injury. But if it will take you more than a week to recover, consider getting a protective ankle brace instead. An ankle brace has a few helpful benefits that prevent reinjury. First, you can get a rigid brace that is kick-resistant. Even if your ankle gets jostled, you are less likely to take damage.
A rigid brace also supplies extra support in the many inconvenient instances when you need to step down or stand on both feet to maintain your balance. Compared to an elastic bandage, a brace can be wrapped around your ankle to provide compression and protection in seconds rather than the few minutes it takes to wrap the bandage.
4. Take Time Off
We know, we know, an ankle injury is no reason to stay home from work if you can still get the job done. But certain jobs and severity of ankle injury just might warrant it. If there is a great deal of walking involved in either doing your job or getting to your desk, you may be able to heal much more efficiently and avoid reinjury risk by staying home for a few days. Going to work is a significant risk to ankle reinjury including driving, navigating the workplace, and avoiding the movement from many people who may not know that your ankle is injured. Catch a long recovery weekend or see if you can telecommute instead.
Stay home from your most active work or weekly activities while your ankle heals. Keep your ankle out of traffic, reduce the amount of temptation or requirement to stand and walk. The more rest you prioritize at the beginning of your recovery cycle, the faster you will recover and the less chance you’ll have of unfortunate reinjury.
5. Use a Crutch
If you do need to move around, wear a protective brace and use at least one crutch. The most common cause of ankle reinjury isn’t impact, it’s stepping on the ankle as if you can walk. A lifetime of walking has ingrained the habit of stepping with both feet so strongly that it is incredibly difficult to stay off an injured ankle. The reinjury, of course, happens because the ankle can’t support weight thoughtlessly put on it. The ankle will twist again or cause a stumble which can result in over-extension and sudden heavy impact.
The best way to protect your ankle from thoughtless stepping, other than a rigid ankle brace, is to use a crutch. One crutch or a pair of crutches will take the weight that your ankle cannot. Having a crutch not only helps you move around, but it also helps you remember not to step down on the injured ankle. It’s easier to remember to step lightly when you have a mental note and visual reminder to reach for your crutches before getting up.
Crutches can also help you avoid foolish (yet tempting) decisions like hopping around your home in an attempt not to step on the foot or slow down in your daily routine. The trouble with hopping without a crutch is that if you lose your balance, your injured foot will automatically set down to catch your weight. Which is, of course, a bad idea.
6. Ask a Friend
But one of the best things you can do for yourself is ask for help from friends or family. Just one other person can be your extra hands, a shoulder to lean on, and a reminder not to step down on the ankle. It’s good to have an ally in recovery. If you don’t stay home from work, a helpful coworker can help you get to and from the parking lot and break room without putting your ankle at risk. A very good friend will trade pushing you around in your office chair for a chance to gallop around on your crutches.
A family member at home can get things for you and help you keep the ankle wrapped with fresh ice packs so that you don’t put yourself at risk hopping around the house as we so often are tempted to do.
But you might be surprised, a friend in your ankle recovery is often most useful for reminding you not to do things that are dangerous. It’s easier for a person outside yourself to remember that you’re not supposed to step on your injured ankle or that you always need to keep your ankle propped up because they’re not breaking their own habits. A friend will bring you pillows and a family member may even be able to keep you from stumbling out of bed right after you wake up and haven’t remembered your ankle is injured yet.
Ankle reinjuries are common even years after the initial injury, but immediately after the injury is when your risk is greatest. It’s important to take care to protect your ankle and take measures that will help you avoid additional reinjury risk. Here at Mueller Sports Medicine, we are dedicated to providing what you need to recover fully and safely. With a compression ankle brace and/or a rigid ankle brace, your ankle will be defended from jostling and supported from accidental steps. Contact us today for help finding the right ankle brace for your recovery.