When Can I Restart Running After an Ankle Sprain?

Broken twisted ankle - running sport injury.
Close-up of runner holding his ankle. (Image: luckyraccoon/iStock/Getty Images)

Chances are you will experience an ankle sprain at some point in your life, as this joint is the most common site of sprains on the body. A sprain occurs when a ligament, which joins bones to each other, stretches too much or tears. Whether you’re a professional runner or run to keep fit, an ankle sprain can sideline you for weeks. Medical intervention or proper at-home care can get you back on track as soon as possible.

Causes

You are more likely to suffer an ankle sprain when you are running across uneven ground, which can make your foot will roll inward and strain the ligaments in your ankle. Other possible causes of an ankle sprain include stepping into a pothole, landing awkwardly from a jump or rolling your foot over while playing a sport such as basketball or tennis.

Types of Strains

Ankle strains are graded according to severity. A grade I strain does not cause much pain, swelling or loss of function. A grade II strain is a partial tear of a ligament, which causes significant pain, swelling and joint stiffness, as well as some loss of function. A grade III strain is a complete tear of a ligament. You will be in severe pain when the injury first occurs, but the pain subsides due to nerve damage, according to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Trauma. Other symptoms include total loss of function, and subsequent swelling and joint stiffness.

Treatment

The treatment for an ankle sprain varies depending on the severity. In general, your doctor will recommend RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. You may need to ice your ankle for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day for up to 72 hours. You may need to tape or brace the ankle to keep it stable. Stretching exercises, which you can begin when your pain lessens and your swelling stops increasing, will reduce stiffness in your ankle, notes the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Trauma. Other therapeutic exercises strengthen and stabilize the joint begin once you have increased and pain-free range of motion. Some of these exercises include writing the alphabet with your toes, ankle circles and toe and heel raises.

Returning to Running

The rate of your recovery depends partly on how severe your injury is, as well as how well you stick to your rehabilitation. With mild ankle sprains, you may be able to return to running after a few days with a brace, according to the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine. With a grade II sprain, your ankle may need two to three months to return to full strength and stability. For a grade III sprain, it’s closer to four months. A physiotherapist can recommend the best course of treatment to ensure that your ankle heels properly to restore function and avoid future injury.

Signs You're Ready to Run

You'll know you're ready to restart running if your ankle has full range of motion in all directions, the muscles around your ankle are strong -- for instance, your ankle doesn't buckle as you walk -- and if you have good balance. There should also be no pain or swelling during activities such as standing or walking. Seek more advice from your doctor on when you're ready to resume your running routine.

Considerations and Precautions

If you’re concerned about staying fit while you’re laid up with your ankle sprain, consider switching to non-weight-bearing exercises that will not stress your ankle. Possible activities include cycling, swimming and weight training. Also, once you return to being active, avoid any activity that involves twisting or pivoting motions for two to three weeks. Once you return to running, start at a slow pace and stick to even surfaces. Your physiotherapist can show you how to properly tape your ankle in preparation for your run.

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