Swollen Ankles After Hiking

young woman hiker legs on mountain peak cliff
A woman is wearing hiking boots. (Image: lzf/iStock/Getty Images)

Hiking is typically a healthy activity that burns roughly 223 calories in 30 minutes if you weigh 155 pounds. But like any other form of exercise, it’s not 100 percent risk-free. You can injure your ankle in a variety of ways, causing it to swell. Hiking may also exacerbate an underlying ankle problem. Take precautions to avoid ankle injuries, but be prepared to act if you notice your ankle starting to swell.

Excessive Fluid Leads to Swollen Ankles

When you look at a swollen ankle, what appears to be puffier flesh is actually caused by excessive fluids that have built up between your cells. The cause may be as simple as remaining on your feet too long, particularly if you’re overweight, or your ankle may swell due to an injury. Common hiking injuries include ankle sprains and fractures, often caused by twisting your ankle or falling while you’re negotiating uneven terrain.

Treating a Swollen Ankle

Treating a swollen ankle depends in part on the type of injury you incur. If you feel any ankle pain, stop and check the area immediately, looking for any swelling or bruising. Check the foot’s pulse by placing the tips of your middle and index fingers on top of your foot, about 1 or 2 inches down from the ankle. If the pulse feels weak, you may have a circulation problem, in which case you should seek immediate medical treatment. If the pulse is good, then take as much weight off the ankle as possible as you continue walking by leaning on another hiker or using a stick for support. Unfortunately, you may not be able to tell the difference between a bad sprain and a relatively mild fracture. As a precaution, assume a badly swollen ankle is broken. If you have any doubt about what to do, find medical help promptly.

Preventing Ankle Injuries

To help prevent ankle injuries when you’re hiking, get fitted for a pair of boots specifically designed for hiking that provide good foot and ankle support. Warm up before your hike by walking on level ground for five to 10 minutes, and then do some dynamic stretching. For example, perform walking side lunges by standing straight and then lunging to your right. Rise, bring your left foot next to your right and then lunge to your right again. Do the stretch for 10 yards in both directions. Keep an eye on the ground when you begin hiking, particularly when the terrain is rough, to avoid slipping or falling.

Nonhiking Problems

If your ankle swells while you’re hiking, it’s possible you have a preexisting problem that the hike only made worse. For example, you may have an infection or a blood clot in the area. Get immediate medical help if your swollen ankle feels warm when you touch it, if it’s red or if you have a fever. As in the case of a hiking injury, err on the side of caution and see a physician if you’re not certain why your ankle is swollen.

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