Tips for Trail Runners near Princeton: How to Avoid a Sprained Ankle

Faith A. Schick, DPM March 5th, 2019

If You Find Yourself Rolling Your Ankles Easily, Do These Exercises to Reduce the Risk of an Injury

Trail runners may be tempted to play down an injury like a sprained ankle because they are so common. However, even if they’re common, that doesn’t mean they’re simple. Most athletes aren’t aware of the risk for long-term disability associated with ankle sprains, such as osteoarthritis. In fact, 70-80% of ankle arthritis can be traced back to an injury.

Sprains Are More Problematic Than You Might Think

In 1999, a groundbreaking study in ankle sprains showed that sprained ankle effects are more complex than is generally thought. The study of 467 ankle patients showed that most were still experiencing pain and weakness six to 18 months after the initial injury. 25% of patients couldn’t walk a mile without pain and 20% had re-sprained the ankle, sometimes multiple times. Swelling, pain, and perceived instability were still apparent in the majority of cases.

Runners, Avoid Sprains with These Five Tips

Because of these risks, incorporating ankle exercises into your running routine is an important preventative measure.

Runners typically sprain an ankle when their toes are on the ground and their heel is up. This position is also known as plantar flexion, which puts the ankle ligaments under tension. If you land on an uneven surface, you can turn your ankle inward (inversion sprain). The most common type of sprain, an inversion, causes pain on the outer side of the ankle. If you experience pain on the inner side of the ankle, then you may have an eversion sprain. Eversion is the more serious of the two, as it involves an injury to the ligaments supporting the arch.

To build your ankle strength and reduce the risk of injury, you can incorporate these five simple exercises into your running routine.

  1. Ankle Circles
    Sit on the ground with your legs bent in front of you. Cross one leg over the other and draw a circle in the air with the raised ankle. Be sure to go clockwise as well as counterclockwise, and then change sides.

  2. Ankle Alphabet
    This exercise increases your ankle’s range of motion. In this exercise, you spell out each letter of the alphabet with your ankle in the same position as the previous exercise.

  3. Calf Raises
    Increase ankle strength and control with this exercise. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, shift weight to your toes, and lift your heels off the ground slowly. Be sure to maintain the positioning of ankles so that they don’t roll out. For a more challenging version of this exercise, it can be performed on the stairs (be sure to hold onto the handrail!).

  4. Walking on heels
    You can work the ligaments and muscles in your ankle by walking carefully on your heels, preferably across a carpeted room. Arch your foot so that your toes are pointing as high as possible and take ten steps. Then, walk backwards with your toes still pointing upwards.

  5. Towel squeeze
    This exercise will strengthen the small muscles and tissues in your ankle. Sit in a chair with a towel on the floor in front of you. Place your bare foot on the towel, keeping your heel on the ground. Starting with your smallest toe, contract your toes to bunch up the towel and sweep it inward, towards your big toe. Keep gathering the towel until you have completed ten repetitions. Switch feet, and repeat.

Sprained Ankle Recovery: What to Do When You Hurt Your Ankle

The impact of a sprained ankle can be long-lasting, which is why it’s important to seek the attention of an orthopaedic ankle specialist after injury. A visit with a doctor will also rule out any other more serious conditions that are sometimes mistaken for sprain. Before your doctor’s visit, take these measures (commonly known as R.I.C.E guidelines) to prevent chronic pain and instability:

  • Rest your ankle by limiting weight bearing. You can wear an ankle brace to add stability while the ligaments are healing.

  • Ice the ankle immediately to keep the swelling down. Use a bag or a thin piece of cloth to keep the ice from directly touching the skin. Apply the ice in 15-20 minute intervals; 15 min, 15 min off, etc. for maximum effect.

  • Compress the ankle to control swelling and decrease risk of re-injury. Wrap your ankle when it’s not being iced.

  • Elevate the foot. This is especially important immediately following the injury, as it reduces the amount of blood flow to the injury site. Elevation decreases swelling, pain, and inflammation.

Treatment for sprained ankle may vary depending on the type of sprain you have and how the injury is progressing. The Rothman Orthopaedic Institute Foot & Ankle team near Princeton can guide you through recovery by diagnosing and treating your ankle through evidence-based medicine. At Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in Princeton, you’ll receive care from some of the best orthopaedic doctors in the field. Learn more about ankle injuries or call our office for a consultation at 1-800-321-9999.

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