If you have feet – you’ve probably experienced an ankle sprain at least once.
And while hobbling around on a bruised and seriously cranky ankle is always an option, there are a few things you can do to speed up the healing process and get you back on your feet quickly.
So here are 3 ways you can help speed up the healing and recovery for an ankle sprain.
1. Ice isn’t as helpful as you think it is.
While ice can certainly help with pain, immediately following an injury like an ankle sprain it’s not the only thing you should be doing.
And RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) isn’t as accurate as we once thought.
One of the reasons we’re told we should ice is because it “helps with inflammation”, and while it may be true that cold exposure decreases the blood flow to an area, inflammation isn’t necessarily bad.
Inflammation brings specialized cells to the area that break down and clean up the damage and set the stage for rebuilding to occur. Yes, swelling and inflammation can become an issue if there’s so much it compresses nerve endings which can create pain and decrease movement.
But short term inflammation (like 24-48 hours post ankle sprain) can be a good thing because it will keep you off your ankle to avoid further damage.
Where we get into trouble is when you let swelling hang around in a joint for too long, which interferes with the healing process and can lead to permanent changes in the fascia and surrounding tissues.
So, back to icing – yay or nay?
Yes, use some ice in the first 48 hours post-injury, but know that it’s managing pain and not the swelling. To get the swelling to keep moving, you have to move.
Which leads us to the second trick to healing your ankle sprain fast…
2. Pain-free movement is key
Swelling is extra fluid outside of the cells in the lymphatic system. And unlike the cardiovascular system, there is no lymphatic pump to move fluid through your body. The only thing that moves lymph is more movement. In fact, it’s the contraction of muscles that helps to squeeze any extracellular fluid back into lymph ducts where it is filtered and returned back into circulation.
Movement is one of the best things you can do post-injury because it will help to clear the swelling and start the process of rebuilding the brain/tissue connection to the area.
I’m not saying you should head out and run a marathon – but do what you can without creating any more pain.
And movement can be on a more local level – i.e. you can create movement with specific bodywork tools to help address swelling and pain.
One of my favorite ways to help decrease swelling is with compression. Floss Bands (aka VooDoo Floss) are perfect for intermittent compression aka squeezing an area a TON for a short period of time.
In the case of the floss bands – you wrap them tightly around your ankle, starting from the toes and moving upwards, to help move the extra lymph (and swelling and inflammation) back into the lymphatic system and out of the joint.
This isn’t the same as an ankle brace – you actually don’t want to keep a floss band on for more than 2-4 minutes or your foot will fall asleep.
The floss band IS decreasing blood flow to the area, but it’s not a bad thing in this case (since it’s only temporary). When you remove the floss band, there’s this rush of warmth as blood flows back into the area, flushing any of the inflammatory debris so it doesn’t get stagnant.
3. (Re) Build Strength
Once you’ve addressed swelling and you can start to put weight on the area, usually within 7-10 days, it’s time to start reconnecting your brain to your ankle.
Anytime there’s an injury in the body, your brain shuts off communication and tightens up all the tissues in the surrounding area as a protective mechanism designed to keep you from further injury.
In the short term, fantastic. But not being able to fire the tissues in your ankle 3 weeks after a sprain? Not super helpful when you step off a curb and sprain your ankle, especially because you were finally starting to feel just a little bit better!
I love to use resistance bands for this – it allows you to get target specific ankle motions that are the most affected after a sprain.
Here are two ways to strengthen ankle stability and balance (all of which will help rebuild that brain/tissue connection at the ankle).
So the next time you injure your ankle, instead of settling onto the couch with your ankle elevated for the next week while you binge watch Netflix, try one of these three ways to get your out of pain and back to moving with ease.
And if you want even more clarity on exactly what to do to get out of pain while getting stronger – check out Movement Mavens – a membership community that makes self-care simple so you can get it done and get on with your day. You’ll learn where to make small shifts (that count!) to get you on the fast track to waking up without pain, every day. Learn more about Movement Mavens here.