When Can I Exercise Normally After an Ankle Sprain?

 When Can I Exercise Normally After an Ankle Sprain?

If you begin exercising too quickly after an ankle sprain, you risk causing more damage and delaying your recovery. Familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of ankle sprain recovery can help you determine when it’s safe and appropriate to return to exercising and your regular active lifestyle.

As a sports medicine specialist, podiatrist Dr. David E. Biss provides exceptional foot and ankle care to patients in the Concord and Plymouth, New Hampshire, areas. Following a thorough evaluation at Concord Podiatry, Dr. Biss can help you recover and advise you on when it’s safe to return to exercise. 

It can feel frustrating to limit exercise in order to heal an ankle sprain when you normally lead an active lifestyle. It’s understandable to feel eager to get back to your regular exercise routine, but rushing your recovery can cause more harm than good and lead to chronic ankle problems. Here’s what to expect with proper ankle sprain recovery.

Ankle sprain recovery

Recovery from an ankle sprain depends on how severe your sprain is. Sprains are graded from Grade 1 to Grade 3, with Grade 1 being the least severe. The RICE method — rest, ice, compression, and elevation — is often the first step on the path to recovery.

If the sprain is severe, you may need to wear an ankle brace for up to six weeks. Once you can put some weight on your ankle comfortably, starting rehabilitative exercises is typical to strengthen the surrounding muscles and accelerate healing.

Early ankle sprain recovery

The goal of early ankle sprain rehabilitation is to reduce swelling and pain. Resting and applying ice in short intervals for the first three days after an injury reduces swelling, improves blood flow, and speeds up healing. The amount of rest and compression you need depends on the severity of the sprain. 

Elevating your ankle above your heart and taking over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help reduce swelling even more. Plan on taking it easy during the early part of ankle sprain recovery.

Rehabilitation exercise

The ankle joint is complex. Recovery involves focusing on restoring strength, flexibility, balance, and range of motion. Each of these functions is essential not only for recovery but also for maintaining a healthy ankle joint. 

Exercise therapy is a critical component of the healing process. It strengthens the ankle and helps prevent recurring sprains or other problems. Different exercises concentrate on one or more of these elements. 

Failing to rehabilitate an ankle properly after an ankle sprain can lead to chronic ankle instability, which may require surgery to repair.

Strength

It’s necessary to strengthen your ankle's muscles, ligaments, and tendons before returning to regular exercise. 

If you were immobilized or non-weight bearing in the early stages of the sprain, you may have developed weakness in your lower limb. It is critical to get these areas screened. If deficiencies are discovered, Dr. Biss can recommend exercises to address those areas.

Flexibility

Maintaining range of motion is crucial. In severe ankle sprains, immobilization with a brace may be required, but once you get the go-ahead from Dr. Biss, you should begin moving your ankle. Your physical therapist can provide exercises and manual techniques to help speed up the process so you recover both quickly and safely. 

Balance

Balance helps you stay upright on uneven surfaces and correct your foot position so you don’t fall. It isn’t something you do consciously; rather, it’s an automatic loop that runs through your brain.

You can have strong ankles with a good range of motion, but if you lack good balance, you’re more likely to re-injure yourself. A ligament sprain affects some of the tissue's receptors that provide feedback to the brain.

During your recovery, your physical therapist begins with easier balance exercises that gradually progress in difficulty. 

Returning to regular exercise

Once you’ve finished ankle rehabilitation, Dr. Biss will let you know when it’s safe to return to your regular exercise. Generally, he advises patients with ankle sprains to avoid vigorous exercise for at least six weeks. Each case is different. 

Call or text the Concord Podiatry team for more specific exercise guidelines to schedule a visit with Dr. Biss. Keeping your feet and ankles in tip-top shape is our top priority!

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