The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Podiatrists Say Most People Don’t Give A Twisted Ankle Ample Recovery Time

Posted by on Monday, December 16th, 2013

When I was 17, I dated a skateboarder. He was by no means a pro, but he was, at least, terribly cool. One day he was sliding on the back wheels down a tipped-over street sign he had ripped out of the ground (which we totally do not condone, by the way!) — when, suddenly, the rail shifted and he went tumbling off, landing in an awkward, bowed-out way.

I was no doctor, but it didn’t look good. It had all the classic symptoms of an ankle sprain. It immediately swelled and turned an eggplant shade of black-and-blue. “It’s cool,” he said nonchalantly. “I twist my ankle all the time. I’ll just walk it off, you know. It’ll be fine.” The next day, he couldn’t walk. The day after that, he was in a cast and scuttling along on crutches.

skateboarding ankle sprain
Skateboarding can be a sure-fire way to twist an ankle. Just don’t try to “walk it off” or continue busting tricks after a sprain! Image Source: Skateboard.About.com

Twisted Ankles: The All-American Injury

Twisted ankles are as American as baseball or apple pie, it seems. Why? Because we wear ridiculous shoes, do ridiculous things, and simply cannot “take it easy!” Each year, around 28,000 Americans suffer a sprained ankle, with nearly half of all injuries occurring during sporting activity. If you’re looking for an excuse to take some time off work, field hockey, volleyball, football, basketball, cheerleading, ice hockey, soccer, rugby, track, gymnastics and softball are common ways to twist an ankle! (I kid.)

Don’t Just “Walk It Off!”

No one knows precisely where the age-old (and asinine) phrase, “Just walk it off” came from, but it’s certainly ill-advised if you’ve just twisted your ankle. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association says that ankle injuries are often taken too lightly and not treated properly — which, in turn, leads to pain, re-injury, disability and early arthritis.

Rather than walking around on your injured ankle, podiatrists recommend getting off the injury immediately. Prop the ankle up on a few pillows, wrap it in a compression bandage, and put ice on it for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes off, you can reapply the ice pack, as necessary.

If the pain is really bad, take acetaminophen, but wait at least 48 hours before taking an ibuprofen. You want the normal inflammatory process to begin the healing process, but you can later take the NSAID to keep the swelling from worsening.

Most importantly, you should see a professional to have a physical exam performed. X-rays are standard orders in many clinics, but they are only really necessary if the ankle is deformed or you cannot walk more than four steps immediately following the injury. X-rays cannot show soft tissue damage, after all. Only about 1 in 500 ankle sprains require surgery to repair serious damage.

ankle sprain
Give yourself at least a few days to rest after a sprained ankle. Image Source: PerfectBalanceClinic.com

How Long Should You Stay Off A Sprained Ankle?

In the past, ankle sprains were treated with total immobilization in a cast for six weeks. We now know this twisted ankle treatment does more harm than good. Today, the emphasis is on “functional recovery.” Without some movement, the ankle tissues will become weak.

So podiatrists generally recommend staying off the ankle for two or three days, using crutches, and then transitioning to an ankle brace or boot, along with taping for stability while you heal. Some sprains are worse than others, so if you are still experiencing pain when you put weight on your foot, you shouldn’t try to push yourself much further.

When you are feeling better, physical therapists will incorporate balance training into your daily routine. You’ll stand on the injured foot on a firm, even surface and then on a foam surface or trampoline. You can do this exercise with your eyes open or closed. The idea is to force the ankle to adjust to unstable conditions, which will help you avoid future sprains. Resistance bands work well for improving range of motion in the ankle, while calf raises and heel-to-toe walking are recommended exercises for boosting balance and coordination too.

No matter what caused your ankle sprain, make sure you get it checked out and take care of your ankle while it recovers!

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.