Ankle Sprain from Running
From wooded trails to suburban sidewalks, from sandy beaches to the local gym’s treadmill, unfortunately any surface can lead to an ankle sprain from running. Sure, it’s more likely to happen if you’re running on a path covered with obstacles like twigs, stones or roots. Nevertheless, poor balance, weakness or just plain distraction has proved to most runners at one point or another that it’s possible to injure your ankle on any surface.
Ankle twists and sprains are some of the most common injuries from running. This fact is no surprise—our ankles experience some serious stress with every step we take. And our ankles are just one of the major joints that feel the impact every time our feet hit the ground. Our hips and knees both sustain a lot of stress as well and are at risk of their own injuries. For this reason it’s extremely important to keep the muscles surrounding our joints strong and in shape. These muscles provide the protection our joints and ligaments need to keep us from injury.
An ankle sprain from running occurs to a runner who has stretched or torn one or more of the ligaments surrounding the ankles. Due to different ligaments, there are several types of ankle sprains. There are also several degrees of seriousness. Every ankle sprain is unique to the runner, and the treatment and recovery will depend on the person. If you suspect you may have sustained an ankle sprain from running, read on to determine how to treat it and how to prevent further injury in the future.
In short, ankle sprains from running occur as a result of a twisted ankle. Perhaps your foot landed on an uneven surface, or maybe you weren’t watching where you were going and landed funny on your own. These are called inversion injuries, where the foot rolls unnaturally beneath the ankle.
No matter what causes it, when you put pressure on a twisted ankle it can pull on one of several ligaments in the area. In minor cases, this might just cause the ligament to stretch. However, in more severe instances the ligament can actually tear or even rupture completely.
The majority of ankle sprains are lateral sprains, meaning they occur on the outside of the ankle. There are three smaller ligaments on the outside of the ankle. These are the ligaments that are stretched or torn when the foot rolls inwards. This is the most common cause of an ankle sprain from running. If you’ve ever twisted your ankle, you can probably recollect landing with your foot turned inward. There’s also one big ligament on the inside of the ankle. Injury to this ligament would be caused by the foot rolling inward, which only makes up about 5% of ankle sprains.
Ankle sprains can happen to anyone. However, those with a condition like hindfoot varus, where the heel is turned inward, are more susceptible to twisting their ankle. The same is true for those who have had a previous ankle injury. Those with poor balance are also more likely to suffer from an ankle sprain from running.
As with any injury to tendons, ligaments or muscles, you can expect to see potential swelling and bruising as a mark of a sprained ankle. Since most sprains occur laterally as mentioned earlier, ankle sprains will usually feel painful and tender on the outside of the ankle. Pain can last anywhere from a day to eight weeks depending on the degree of injury.
Ankle sprains are measured with three grades. Grade one ankle sprains are the most minor type, and indicated nothing more than a twisted ankle or stretched ligaments. Next are grade two ankle sprains. These are more severe, and might indicate a torn ligament. Grade three sprains are, of course, the most severe. These ankle sprains can include a ruptured ligament and may require surgery. Another important thing to keep in mind regarding the possible severity of ankle sprains is that sprains sometimes occur in conjunction with fractures—that is, a cracked or broken bone.
Sometimes even those suffering from the lower grades of ankle sprains can have trouble putting weight on the foot. This is sometimes just a symptom of a sore ligament. However, if it really hurts too much to put weight on the foot and ankle, then it’s best to get an x-ray. This, as well as tenderness at a specific area on the bone, might indicate a fracture, which will need a different type of attention and treatment.
Treatment and Prevention
In almost all cases, stretched or torn ligaments will heal on their own without surgery, given enough time. Recovery time will depend on the individual injury. And, as with any sports-related injury, one of the most important things you can do is listen to your body. Don’t push yourself physically beyond what your body is ready for. Give your ankle the rest it needs. In the first 24-48 hours, treat your injury with the RICE technique—rest, ice, compression and elevation. Stay off of your ankle as much as possible and ice it on and off every twenty minutes. Use a wrap and keep your foot elevated.
If you can comfortably stand on your foot, then your recovery time should be shorter. You should rest if your body needs it. But, ankle sprains are one injury where it’s best to return to weight-bearing activity as soon as possible. This is because ankle weakness makes runners more susceptible to sprains. As soon as you get a chance you should begin strengthening. Resistance stretching programs can help you build strength in the muscles surrounding the ankle throughout your full range of motion.
Prevention of further injury is always an important part of treating a current injury. Make this resistance stretching program part of your regular routine. The more you increase your balance, your strength, and your range of motion, the more stable you will be and the less likely you are to go through another sprain.