Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A forced refresher course on ankle sprains

In my attempts to be ambitious the other day, I got a painful reminder of a rule that should be fairly obvious: don’t go running when it’s dark outside.

I was on dinner break from work and decided to get a quick run in to help clear my head for the rest of the evening. Although it was twilight, and I could’ve just as easily gotten a run in on the safety of a YMCA treadmill, that evening I needed to feel the pavement beneath my feet. Besides, the weather looked promising and I’ll take running outside over running on a treadmill any day of the week.

The plan was to run about 3-4 miles on the Red Jacket Trail, which is located about three blocks from my apartment. It’s a nicely paved, relatively flat trail that I’ve ran on many times in the past. So I figured it was as safe of a place as any to sneak in a quick run.

However, I forgot one little detail: the three blocks I needed to run in order to get to the trail. Probably a half of a block into the run, my foot caught the wrong way on a jutted part of the sidewalk and twisted my ankle badly. My 3-4 mile run came to an abrupt end after about 500 ft.

Like most people, I was disheartened by this sudden change in events. My planned exercise instead became a refresher course on treating a sprained ankle. But at the same time, handling an ankle sprain is a pretty important skill for anyone who’s physically active, and brushing up on it never hurts … well, at least mentally it doesn’t hurt.

Anyway, while most of this stuff is pretty basic, here’s the gist of what I got from looking at the WebMD website on ankle sprains:

  • Elevate the ankle above your heart whenever possible to reduce the blood flow and help keep the swelling down for the first day or so.
  • Use ice and compression -- i.e. braces, bandages -- on the ankle for the first couple of days to also help keep the swelling and bruising down. Icing should generally be done for 10-20 minutes at a time and is most ideal while your ankle is elevated.
  • Wear high top shoes or hiking boots to help protect your ankle from unnecessary movement.
  • Start doing range of motion exercises right away to help build back ankle strength. WebMD recommends trying to draw an imaginary alphabet by rotating your foot in the air.
  • Most important, REST. Take it easy on the ankle to let it heal. WebMD recommends crutches, but you can get away with just avoiding high-impact activities on your ankle. The time it takes to heal depends on the severity of the sprain, but it usually takes around 2-3 weeks to heal completely.

If you’re anything like me and can’t sit still for the time it takes for your ankle to heal, activities like biking and running on an elliptical treadmill are pretty low impact. Swimming is also a pretty safe choice. But you should avoid normal running or playing sports at full speed until you feel confident that your ankle has healed. My sprain happened about 5 days ago, and I still haven’t gotten back to running outside yet.

Patience needs to be at a premium when it comes to injuries. In the meantime, I look forward to YMCA members and staff getting used to the site of me running on an elliptical treadmill.

Note: Here is the website I used to get a visual on how to properly tape an ankle. I’ve taped ankles before, but it’s been a long time since sports medicine class in high school.

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