How to Deal with a Sprained Ankle as a Runner

When we talk about running injuries, we typically think of the repetitive motion/overuse type of injuries like plantar fasciitis or shin splints.

These overuse injuries are certainly common among runners, but they aren’t the only injuries that runners find themselves dealing with from time to time.

Certain running injuries can come out of nowhere in the blink of an eye.

One such example is a sprained ankle.

A Sprained Ankle Can Happen to Any of Us

Model Sprained Ankle

And She’s OK… Game On!

Whether you run on the roads, the track, or the trails, a sprained ankle is a distinct possibility for any runner.

  • Step of a curb while running on the road and land funny
  • Running in a pack during a longer distance track race and step on another runners foot
  • An exposed tree root is one of many opportunities to turn an ankle while running on a trail

While I believe that most overuse injuries in running can be prevented, with something like a sprained ankle there really isn’t much that can be done in terms of prevention.

Sometimes your foot lands on an uneven surface, and before you know what happened you’re down.

What is the Best Way to Treat a Sprained Ankle

When you’re dealing with a sprained ankle, the two keys to determining how quickly you’ll be able to run again come down to reducing the swelling and restoring the range of motion.

Let’s start with the swelling.

Many runners have heard of the acronym RICE before, which stands for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

RICE to Limit Swelling After a Sprained Ankle

Immediately after you roll your ankle, following the RICE formula is a great way to limit the amount of swelling that ends up in the joint.

And if you can limit the amount of initial swelling, it makes the task of reducing the swelling that much easier.

After 24-36 hours, you can begin working on restoring the range of motion to your injured ankle.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply use your foot to “draw” the A, B, C’s.

While sitting, use your big toe to draw each letter of the alphabet in the air, with the movement coming from your ankle only.

Doing this exercise not only helps with restoring the range of motion to your ankle, but the movement will actually help push some of the fluid (aka the swelling) out of the joint as well. Talk about a win-win!

The Swelling is Gone and the ROM is Normal, Now What?

In theory, now you’re ready to start running again.

However, one other thing I would strongly encourage you to do is check your balance.

Believe it or not, a sprained ankle can definitely impact your stability, and if you’re having a hard time balancing your odds of spraining the same ankle again are greatly increased.

If you notice that it is significantly more difficult to balance on the injured ankle compared to the uninjured ankle, you’d be wise to hold off on the running for just a little bit longer and work to improve that balance.

Simply standing on one foot while you’re brushing your teeth is a great way to start working on your balance. And if you’re willing to be creative (or just aware), you might be surprised how often you can find times to work on your balance throughout the course of a typical day.

The First Run Back

If you’re feeling normal and the balance is good, it’s time to get back at it.

But a word to the wise, keep things simple and low key for that first run back.

Take it Easy after a Sprained Ankle

Keep your run short, keep the intensity low, and try to run in a location that has pretty sure footing to help reduce the risk of sustaining another sprained ankle on your first run back.

And then just keep slowly ramping things back up, and before you’ know it you’ll be back to running just like you did before you sprained your ankle in the first place!

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2 replies
  1. Kat
    Kat says:

    That GIF of the model always makes me cringe for so many reasons.

    I sprained my left ankle very badly many years ago, and it was a full year before I was confident breaking into a trot. I wasn’t a runner then, or it may have played out differently, but that sprain was cataclysmic. As a side note, I had to drive myself three hours to medical attention. In a brand new MANUAL car, with the heaviest clutch ever created…

    Reply
    • Denny
      Denny says:

      A bad sprain is nothing to be overlooked. I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that a fracture is easier to recover from than a sprain, but neither is a walk in the park for sure!

      Reply

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