How To Recover From a Sprained Ankle

After a painful weekend, I think my ankle is well on the road to recovery. I’m finally able to walk without limping too much and I can finally ambulate crutch-free! (Plus, I was pretty sure that I was more of a hazard with my crutches than without.)

Doctor wrapping a sprained ankle
There are so many things you can do to heal your sprained ankle. Some sprains are worse than others, but here are some basic tips.

Here are the things I did to get my ankle up to speed. Thanks to some quick action by my core support group, I’m up and not-yet-running-but-you-understand-the-metaphor.

1) I immediately sat down when I twisted it and iced it (see point #2). Within 2-3 hours of twisting my ankle I got it checked out by 2 different docs, 1 of them being a chiropractor. My chiro adjusted it that morning (5 days ago) and again this morning, which really loosened all of the scar tissue and adhesions so that the stiffness went away. With the urgent care doctor, I got an ankle brace to immobilize the joint, some crutches to keep weight off of it, and x-rays to rule out any possible fractures. (There were no fractures and dislocations in my x-ray!)

2) Ice religiously. I iced every waking hour for about 15-20 minutes at a time. The ice was necessary for the pain, but also the swelling. Swelling = pain and pain = not good, so ice kept it at bay (mostly). Lucky for me I spent a lot of time off my feet with some work-from-home arrangements and a free weekend at my disposal. Ice, ice baby!

3) Take a 20-30 minute epsom salt bath every night. I’m not sure what it is about epsom salt baths that are so therapeutic, but they’re very relaxing and they help soothe sore muscles. I soaked in the tub mainly because I couldn’t stand, but by proxy I got to finally indulge in some of my fitness magazines while relaxing my stresses away. Lukewarm at this point is best, since heat will just aggravate any pain and swelling you have. When I was in cheer in college, there were ice whirlpools that you could soak your affected limbs in. It was hardly relaxing but at least it sped up the recovery process. Either way, soaking is good.

4) RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Seriously. All of those are super important. Never neglect the basics. You’d be surprised at how much better you will feel once you take care of just these things.

5) 2-3 nightly ankle massages using Chan Yak Hin medicated oil. I picked this up in Chinatown in LA when I last rolled my ankle on the sidewalk last fall, and since then it’s been my little secret. Every time I take a tumble or roll, this medicated oil really speeds up the recovery process. Slathering it on isn’t enough though; you really have to work it in with a good massage. Having studied reflexology makes it easy for me, but don’t be scared to ask someone you trust for help with this one. (Massage always feels better when someone else is giving it!)

6) Elevate your foot while sleeping. I used one of the cushions from my futon that is in the shape of a half-dome. It’s flat on the bottom and goes nowhere, unlike some of by other head pillows. It’s also wide enough to stay in place and heavy enough that it won’t succumb to nocturnal soccer with my significant other.

7) Cut your training volume. This was probably what made me the most sad. Seeing all of those unfinished workouts and the unfinished hours accumulate was seriously dinging my psyche. I had to preemptively cut down on my next two week’s worth of workouts just to make sure that I didn’t injure myself by coming back too much too soon. (I’ve since added some more elliptical workouts because I feel like I can handle it at a low intensity.)

8) Eat a protein-heavy diet. Look, I’m no dietician but since I’m trying to recover from a strained ligament or muscle it makes sense to load up on some protein to give my body the tools it needs to do the job. My diet is generally pretty light on protein anyways so it was a nice change. I stuck to tofu, eggs, and protein shakes since I’m on a vegetarian diet.

9) Sleep 8+ hours a day. That’s saying something for someone who generally sleeps 5-6 hours a night. Again, lucky (or unlucky) for me I twisted my ankle right before the weekend so I got some good veg-out time to do absolutely nothing. Like, I would do things that required no brain-power from me: eating, watching movies, napping, etc. While sleeping your body does most of its recovery work (the Triathlete’s Training Bible says so!) and I really wanted to get my body in tip-top shape. Heck, I also needed the sleep from the insane hours I’ve been pulling at work and in training anyways…

10) Rehab exercises for ankles with someone who knows what they’re doing (i.e. kinesiologist, trainer, physical therapist, chiro). That last part is really important. Don’t just pull some exercises off the internet and start going at them at full speed. Work with people who’ve been trained in this stuff. They’re experts and will know when to push you and when to lay off. My trainer is a kinesiologist and my chiros are obviously trained in subluxations. It helps to have a set of expert eyes on your recovery. It’s definitely worth the investment if you have someone that you trust. I was terrified to set foot in the gym this morning, but when I sat down with my coach, he put together a set of great exercises to loosen up my ankle and to get the limp out of my walk. When I met with my chiro this morning, he examined the ankle and adjusted it so that my limp was completely eliminated. It was awesome.

Any other tips you want to share? My ankle no longer has acute pain but is still a bit sore, so I’m still icing and I’m all ears.

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