Running Rehab: How To Start Running On A Sprained Ankle

Natalie Cecconi
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What is an Ankle Sprain?

Sprains are the most common type of injury that you might get while playing sports. And an ankle sprain is definitely the most common among them.

An ankle sprain occurs when you roll, twist, or turn your ankle in an unnatural direction. The ligaments become stretched beyond their natural length and become strained, which results in injury.

The medical name for this injury is "inversion sprain." Inversion refers to the position of the foot when you turn your ankle, which causes the foot to turn inward.

Ankle sprains are mostly graded on three criteria, known as the A, B, and C tests.

A: Inversion test: This indicates the severity of the sprain. A grade A sprain is the mildest and involves only a slight inversion (the foot turns inwards).

B. Eversion or Dorsiflexion test: This indicates the stability of your ankle. A grade B sprain involves less severe inversion than a grade A sprain, but also less severe eversion.

C. Plantar flexion or Rotation test. Like the eversion test, this indicates the stability of your ankle, but it also checks the stability in plantar flexion (your foot turning downwards).

Common Causes of Ankle Sprains

The most common causes of ankle sprains are sports injuries, falls, improper running technique and tight calf muscles.

The best time to wear ankle braces is when you are in games which involve a lot of running or heavy momentum.

Wearing ankle braces during these games can help prevent ankle sprains.

Since you can’t play the match in ankle braces, wear them while training.

The braces will help with preventing injuries to your ankle.

Ankle sprains are common injuries. Your ankle could be sprained for a number of reasons and you should be aware of the type of sprains but here is a brief description of common sprains.

The common type of ankle sprains are:

  • inversion sprain,
  • eversion sprain,
  • mixed injury and

lateral sprains.

The inversion sprain happens when there is a tearing of the ligaments. The three major ligaments of the ankle are inversion, eversion and subtalar.

These ligaments prevent excessive motion and provide stability. When the ankle is sprained the ligaments can tear which may be partial or complete.

The rupture of complete ligaments allow feet to point down at the ground.

Eversion sprains happen when the foot rolls toward the outside of the foot.

How Long Should I Wait Before Running Again?

One of the most common sports injuries is the sprained ankle. So it’s no surprise that many runners will experience it sooner or later. As a running blogger, I really want to share with you that you can usually take care of a mild ankle sprain in your home.

Most sprained ankles are just a mild tearing of ligaments, but a few of them can tear the syndesmotic ligaments and even cause a fracture.

The most important thing when you have a sprained ankle is to follow your doctor’s advice on what activities are safe to do. This will depend not only on the severity of your ankle sprain but also on your overall health.

The general rule of thumb is that you should wait for the pain to subside before doing any activity. And it’s also important to strengthen the muscles around the ankle joint to avoid re-spraining that ankle.

How to Return to Running After an Ankle Sprain

Like a lot of runners, I have sprained both ankles many times; I like to run on the side of the road, on grass, and on the beach. And this has led to multiple sprained ankles, which is not ideal.

But as a long-time runner, I have learned how to manage this injury pain from sprained ankles so I can continue running. And the best part is that I have proven to myself that running after spraining an ankle is possible and that healing takes a short time.

For most people, running on a sprained ankle is likely to be short lived. To get back to running after spraining your ankle, you will need to wait for the swelling to go down, give your body time to recover from the initial shock and treat the injury to reduce the amount of inflammation and prevent further damage.

So, if you are lucky enough to have only sprain an ankle, here is a 7-step run rehabilitation program that will get you back on your feet as quickly as possible.

Make Sure You are Pain and Swelling Free

While there’s no shortage of advice at the ready, when it comes to physical therapy after a running injury, many times that advice is completely contradicting. While you’ll probably find many experts recommending that you stay away from running for 8 weeks to allow the joint to heal, there’s a small group of opposing experts that will say you can run as much and as soon as you feel “normal” again.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, that really depends on what your definition of “normal” is.

If you have a minor ankle sprain, you may not have any swelling at all. But if you have a more serious sprain, then you’re likely to experience swelling and pain that can be debilitating and painful.

If you’re in the latter group, you’d be wise to take a little time off to let the swelling go down and the pain dissipate. If you’re in the former, the pain will likely dissipate and you’ll feel fine pretty quickly “ at least enough to start running again.

Focus on Range of Motion and Strengthening Exercises

Even if you’re able to walk, your ankle should be supported by a soft splint when you’re moving around.

This helps keep you from damaging the joint any further.

It will also put less stress on your muscles when your ankle is at a less than optimal angle.

To maintain range of motion during this time, alternate raising and lowering your foot for five reps every few hours, or as often as you can. This will help you keep as much mobility as you can.

Strengthening exercises should emphasize durability and endurance over strength. When you first start running again, you’ll be doing short sprints that require fast and powerful movements.

Your muscles aren’t ready for that yet, which is why you’ll want to favor exercises like biking, swimming, rowing, and upper-body weight lifting that work the same muscles without putting as much stress on them.

This might mean also enlisting the help of a physical therapist. Your ankle will also be supported with a brace or a removable splint to prevent rolling on that injured ankle.

When you finally take your braces off, strengthening the muscles surrounding your ankle will help prevent it from happening again.

Start Slowly

After being injured, it’s tempting to try and remain as active as possible, but that’s not always the right thing to do. If you already have a running injury, it’s important that you take a step back and slow down.

At times like this, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to completely stop running until you get over your injury. If you are desperate to keep running, you can continue to jog, but with less force involved.

If you don’t mind being dragged to the floor, you can opt for walking instead. Walking is a great way to strengthen your muscles and improve your endurance.

Weekly walking sessions at a slow pace will help you improve your physical fitness and stamina even if you are not actually running.

Concluding Thoughts

I was running on a terribly uneven, and grooved, footpath. I pushed off with my right leg and heard a twang as I rolled over a raised bit of gravel. Goddamn it! I thought. Just as I was about to start cursing in earnest at the careless owners of the dog park I was jogging in, my right ankle let me know that it was not happy. I had completely sprained it and would be off running for at least the next couple of weeks. Sigh.

What to do. I had fought the urge to lace up my running shoes for several days after the incident, but finally caved and strapped on my Asics GT-2000s. I knew it would be a bad idea to try to run through the pain, but was I fit to jog gingerly? Surely, there was a happy medium.

Although I am sure there is some really good running advice on how to tackle this from real experts, I have broken my ankle three times in the last seventeen years and have had to take time off from running each time. So I think I have something to contribute too. This is the sports injury advice I would give if I wanted to start running on a sprained ankle.