Whether you’re an elite athlete, a school-boy rugby player or just someone taking a stroll around the garden, at some point you will probably experience that awful moment when you know you have sprained your ankle. Being able to follow the same treatment protocols as the experts can minimise recovery time, and enable you to make informed decisions about whether further medical intervention is needed.
Our favourite sports massage therapist, Daliah Hurwitz, whose magic hands have worked on many of the world’s top rugby players, shares her top tips for dealing with sprains.
“Sprains are common in high-impact sports like rugby, but they can happen to anyone with just a slight misstep. I rolled my ankle recently while I was trying to carry my large Golden Retriever outside while he was recovering from surgery!"
Daliah’s training and on-hand medical kit meant she knew exactly how to respond quickly and effectively.
“Obviously I have a pretty well stocked medical kit, but I think every home should have a basic kit. I immediately followed the P.R.I.C.E protocol for sprains, but first I gave my ankle a generous spray with Wintergreen™ Ice Spray to cool the area, reduce pain and swelling, and minimise the bruising.”
Follow The P.R.I.C.E. Protocol
P stands for “protection” – Daliah protected her ankle by taking the weight off it. Because she was able to move it gently, without excruciating pain, she knew it wasn’t broken, ligaments hadn’t been torn, and that she could just continue with the protocol. If you aren’t able to move your ankle gently without severe pain, you should get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.
R – Rest. By stopping what she was doing and not placing any pressure on the sprained ankle, she ensured there wasn’t further damage to the ligaments.
I – Ice. Apply an ice pack (or ice cubes/packet of frozen veggies wrapped in a dish towel) to the area for 15-20 minutes every couple of hours. By doubling up the cryotherapy (cold therapy) with the ice spray and the ice pack, she maintained the cold sensation for longer without having to keep the ice pack on her skin for long periods, which can be painful.
C – Compress the ankle with two or even three pairs of thick socks, or, if you know how, by wrapping a bandage around the ankle, to further constrict the blood vessels and decrease swelling and provide a degree of support.
Says Daliah, “If I was a rugby player or an athlete with a sprained ankle my team physio would bandage it up, and if you have elastic bandage at home this would be my first choice. But its important to know how to apply the bandage correctly so you don’t constrict the circulation too much and cause numbness, tingling or discoloration. To correctly apply the bandage, place it straight onto the skin, starting a few inches below the ankle injury and ending a few inches above the injury. Wrap in a spiral or figure eight with medium tension on the bandage.”
E – Elevate your ankle by lying down and placing a cushion under it. When the ankle is higher than the level of your heart, blood doesn’t pool around the injury causing more pain and swelling, and increased down-time.
Recovering From a Sprained Ankle
Recovery time from an ankle sprain very much depends on the severity of the sprain, and it’s important that you give your yourself enough time to fully recover or you risk ongoing problems. By carrying out the P.R.I.C.E protocol for two or three days immediately following the sprain, you will give your ankle the best possible chance to recover completely.
Says Daliah, "A rugby player on tour is lucky enough to have a physio/athletic trainer on hand at all times to take care of both the immediate acute ankle injury, but also to take the player through physical therapy and rehabilitation in order to get them back onto the field as soon as is safe. Before the player is allowed to return to training, the physio/athletic trainer will carry out a 'return to play' protocol that involves proprioception exercises, which look at balance and control of the ankle joint. Once the player can run pain free with full mobility, they can return to training.
For the rest of us it's important to have the necessary physio treatment depending on the grade of injury, and only return to train on the ankle once you are pain free and have full mobility (range of motion) in the ankle.
If one returns to training to soon you are at risk of reinjuring the ankle which can take the initial sprain from an acute injury to a more chronic condition such as arthritis. Patience and perception is key, so listen to and look after your body."
Sprains are categorised into 3 groups – Grades 1-3, so keep reading to understand the symptoms of each and what to expect in terms of recovery.
With a Grade 1 or mild sprain, your ligament has probably just been stretched, and you might have a small tear. If you take it easy (which we highly recommend!) within 2 weeks you can expect significant improvement, but you’ll have to wait up to 4 weeks before you can resume sport or exercise. Typically, full mobility is regained after around 4 weeks.
Symptoms of Grade 1 sprain:
With a Grade 2 or moderate sprain, injuries to the ligaments are more serious and there will typically be a partial ligament tear. It will take around 6-8 weeks before enough scar tissue has formed to properly support your ankle.
Symptoms of Grade 2 sprain:
Grade 3 or severe sprains can result in completely torn ligaments or tendons. Surgery may be required to repair the tear, and it will take at least 12 weeks to start healing. Expect to wait around 6 months before you can be fully mobile and return to sport and exercise.
Symptoms of Grade 3 sprain:
“Whether you sprain your ankle in a rugby match or just through a simple misstep in the garden like I did, don’t underestimate the importance of allowing it to heal properly, even if it takes months. I understand the frustration, but you are setting yourself up for more trouble if you rush things!”
In our next blog post, Daliah will be chatting to us about how the power of your mind can help speed up recovery from injuries – don’t miss it! And if you’d like to add Wintergreen™ Ice Spray to your medical kit, you can purchase it here.