Every year, thousands of people sprain their ankles. It can happen stepping the wrong way in the kitchen, landing on uneven ground while out running, or coming down off a ladder at work. Ankle sprains can happen to anyone from secretaries to professional athletes doing almost any level of physical activity. Sprains are usually the result of a single misstep and most people have experienced at least one. Getting the ankle sprain is never the hard part. The true challenge comes afterward when you want to get back to your daily activities but you need to give the ankle time to heal.
Can You Work with an Ankle Sprain?
A lot of people struggle with the idea of taking time off work for a simple ankle injury and unless your job has a high physical demand for moving, lifting, climbing, and so on you should actually be alright to go in as soon as your doctor has confirmed that there are no fractures or major tears in your tendons that need special attention. Because ankle sprains are incredibly localized, meaning they don’t interfere with the rest of your body or your ability to think, you should be able to work around the injury as long as you remember to continue treatment while at work.
Office jobs, in particular, are well suited to allowing your ankle to get plenty of rest while you recover. Any job where you sit for most of the day can be done with an ankle sprain. However, many jobs like retail clerks and kitchen staff, require you to stand and move around for most of the shift and occasionally handle boxes of inventory. You should be able to go into work if your job falls into this category, but it’s important to speak to your supervisor and get assigned to ‘light duty’ which excuses you from any heavy lifting, carrying, or stacking.
For jobs that are primarily physical activity and labor, whether or not you need to take time off will be up to your boss. In many cases, workplaces have no problem reassigning you to lighter work like sorting items at a table, helping with paperwork backlogs, or only moving things with mechanical assistance but it is possible they will send you home on sick days to recover instead.
Taking the Right Precautions
If you can and are approved by your doctor and supervisor to return to work with your sprained ankle, that doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook for recovery procedures. You’ll still need to conform to the basic RICE principles and will probably need to immobilize and stay off the ankle for a few weeks. This means that before you head into work, the right precautions need to be taken.
The last thing you want to do is accidentally re-injure your ankle or put yourself in a situation that isn’t manageable. This is why it’s important to protect your ankle carefully using stretch bandages and a sturdy ankle brace before you leave the house each day. While it may be fine to kick back with your foot propped up in just a bandage at home, work is a busier place with more risks of reinjury. You may also want to bring a small bottle of over-the-counter pain medication in case the ankle becomes distracting while you’re trying to work.
Compress and Protect
First and foremost, wrap the ankle tightly, but not tightly enough to cut off circulation. We recommend using an elastic bandage or a compression ankle brace to keep your ankle both safely compressed to fight swelling and immobilized to prevent further injury. Taking this precaution can allow you to regain some mobility and to make sure your ankle is safe if it is bumped by a person or chair while at work.
Remember that you may be unwrapping your ankle to check on and ice the ankle a few times during the day so make sure that the wrapping or brace is easy to unfasten and that you’re experienced in re-compressing when you’re done without causing additional pain. You may want to practice wrapping and re-wrapping your ankle few times at home before declaring yourself ready for a field test.
When you get to work, look for a way to prop your ankle up while sitting at your desk. An upturned small trashcan is a great solution if you can’t find something better.
Getting Around Safely
Next, it’s time to decide your mobility solution. Depending on what the doctor told you and the equipment you have handy, you have three primary options. Many people working with recovering ankles choose to wear a cast-boot, which will hold the ankle completely immobilized. The boot will potentially allow you to walk around with a heavy limp and will leave your arms left free to carry things or manage doors.
If you’re allowed to put some weight on the ankle, you can try walking with a cane which will help you take some weight off that foot while maintaining a walking speed that is close to normal. However, your best option for both efficient mobility and giving your ankle the complete rest it very probably needs is a pair of crutches.
Going to Work with Crutches
Crutches are by far the most effective way to get around with a sprained ankle. Yes, we know they’re big, awkward to store at your desk, and occupy your hands, but they also give you a faster-than-average movement speed and allow you to completely take the weight off of your injured ankle. While you may be hesitant to take your crutches to work, we have a few tips to help this be less of a hassle. You never know, an attractive coworker just might volunteer carry your books for you.
When getting into a car, crutch over to the car and lean against it while you maneuver the crutches into the car ahead of you, then carefully climb in after. Reverse this process to get out.
Carry a messenger back that you can quickly stow and retrieve items and papers from to recover some of your functional carrying capacity. An accordion organizer in the messenger bag may make things easier.
Crutches can be stowed in a narrow space between your desk and a wall or even hung on command-strip hooks or clasps attached to the wall or the side of your desk for no-clatter easy storage and retrieval
Remember to Ice
In the first week after an ankle sprain, your biggest concern is keeping the swelling down. When an ankle is allowed to swell, it becomes more painful and tender than usual, extends recovery time, and decreases your overall mobility. This is why compression and ice are your primary tools of recovery early on in the healing process. No doubt, you don’t want to deal with increased trouble of a swollen ankle at work so it’s important to remember to ice regularly.
To ice your ankle at work, we suggest you pack a hand towel and a flexible ice pad that can be stored in the break room freezer when you’re not using it. Every two to three hours, retrieve the ice pad, wrap it in the towel, then wrap your ankle and secure in place with a safety-pin for fifteen to thirty minutes. Then re-wrap your ankle and stow the pad back in the freezer. This may involve more trips to the break room than you’re used to, but it’s the best way to recover quickly with the least possible pain.
Switching to Heat
After the first week or two, the swelling will have gone done completely and your ankle will benefit more from heat than cold. Heat eases pain, relaxes tense muscles around the sprain, and increases blood flow. The faster blood flow, in particular, can help to speed up the healing process. However, heat can also make swelling worse, which is why you need to wait a week or two before making the switch.
When the swelling is all or mostly gone, exchange your ice pack for a hot pad. Instead of using the freezer, microwave your hot pad every couple of hours and wrap it in your hand towel. From there, go through the same process as before, securing the pad to your ankle with an elastic bandage and leaving it in place for up to half an hour.
Desk Exercises for Full Recovery
Just as you’re getting good at working around your crutches and brace, your ankle will start to feel better but this isn’t the end of your recovery process. Now it’s time to build back up that flexibility and strength. Fortunately, most of your basic stretches can be done at your desk with low-top or no shoes. Extend the leg then alternate between pointing and flexing the toes. Keeping the foot upright, turn your ankle from side to side, as if your toes were looking around for something, then point your toes and repeat the process. This should help your ankle recover with full functionality so you can eventually return to your complete duties.
When your ankle is comfortably holding your weight again without a brace and your doctor approves, you can finally return to your full array of usual duties. However, for the next few months we recommend being somewhat gentle with the healed ankle as it may be at a greater risk for reinjury while the tendon gets back into shape. For more helpful information on how to recover from an ankle sprain, contact us today!