Joint swelling occurs typically after an injury to ligaments and is a way for your body to protect your joint. Ankle sprains that lead to swelling are fairly common sports injuries.
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Once care has been given — rest, ice, compression and elevation — rehabilitation can begin. Range of motion exercises are often recommended to begin therapy, but cardiovascular fitness is also essential. Cycling with a sprained ankle is recommended in certain instances, depending on the extent of the injury.
Twist and Roll
A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments, or the tissues that hold your bones in place. Ankle sprains often occur when you "roll" your foot over or twist your ankle suddenly beyond its normal range of motion, according to Mayo Clinic. The most common ankle sprain is an inversion sprain, where your ankle turns over so the sole of your foot faces inward, damaging the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
Doctors grade sprains based on severity. The first grade is the most mild, where you have little pain and minimal swelling. With grade two sprains you will have moderate tearing, moderate pain and swelling and stiffness in the ankle. Grade three sprains include total ligament rupture, severe pain and swelling and bruising of the joint, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Cycling with a Sprained Ankle
While rest is a key part of healing a sprain, movement is also necessary to prevent stiffness and weakness in your joint. Your doctor or therapist may suggest range-of-motion exercises to keep your ankle mobile.
While cycling with a sprained ankle is not typically recommended until you can safely put weight on your leg, a stationary bike can provide a low-impact alternative to improve range of motion while unloading your healing joint, according to the University of California Santa Cruz. Gradually, weight-bearing exercises will be added to continue to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons around your ankle joint.
Balance exercises, such as standing on a balance board, will also help you regain strength and proprioception, which helps avoid future sprains. Cardiovascular exercise is also important and is introduced in rehabilitation as soon as your ankle can handle the exercise.
Not the Culprit
While sprains can occur when hopping quickly off the bike or pushing it up rocky or slippery terrain, cycling itself rarely results in ankle sprains. In fact, cycling is often used for rehabilitation purposes, as it puts minimal impact on your joints during exercise. Once your therapist determines your ankle is fit enough to ride, they may suggest beginning with a stationary bicycle. Workout intensity depends on severity of the injury, although you will start with lower-intensity exercise and gradually build up as you gain strength.
Read more: Signs of a Torn Ligament in the Ankle
Proceed with Caution
Taping or wrapping your ankle can help keep the joint stable while you are recovering. Your therapist may also recommend a brace until you regain 100 percent of your pre-injury strength and mobility. Speed and intensity or resistance on the bike should be gradual; pushing yourself too soon can re-injure your ankle. If you feel pain, discontinue exercise or decrease your intensity. Continue to treat your ankle with rest, ice, compression and elevation as your doctor recommends.