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How to Start Walking on a Sprained Ankle

by Patty Weasler, RN January 16, 2020 0 Comments

putting on ankle brace

The first time you sprain your ankle you’ll likely have lots of questions. One of the most common is when it is safe to start walking on a sprained ankle. We’re here to answer that question and teach you how to safely start walking again while teaching you a few tips and tricks along the way. Keep reading to learn more about walking after an ankle sprain and how you can stay safe along the way.

Is it OK to Walk on an Ankle Sprain?

You have an injured ankle and now want to get back to walking on it. It is safe to walk on a sprained ankle but only after you’ve had your injury properly identified and diagnosed by a doctor or physical therapist. There are multiple factors that come into play when determining how and when you can walk on an ankle sprain. The medical advice of a healthcare professional is essential in helping you determine if you need x-rays to evaluate your ankle injury or if at home treatment won’t be enough.

Assuming you don’t have a broken bone, torn ligaments, or another contraindication it will be safe for you to walk soon after your injury. Start slowly and use the support of an ankle brace or kinesiology tape to protect your ankle. Walking too early on a severe sprain can lead to further injury and damage. Listen to your body, let your ankle rest but when the pain subsides it’s time to start moving.

Learn other ways to treat a sprained ankle

Can Walking on a Sprained Ankle Make it Worse?

Minor sprains are safe to walk on after just a day or two of recovery after any pain or swelling subsides. However, more serious sprains can take much longer. Either way, walking on a sprain before it has fully healed can worsen the injury and increase your recovery time. It can even cause problems in other areas of the leg and lower back due to changes in the way you walk.

That's why you should never try to “walk it off” but take the time you need for a full recovery.

Tips for Walking on a Sprained Ankle

walking down the stairs with ankle brace

Learning how to walk the right way on a sprained ankle will prevent re-injury and unnecessary pain. After a moderate to mild sprain, you’ll experience some ankle instability. There are many different ways you can support your ankle until you are able to return to normal activities. Some of the best ways to support your ankle are by using kinesiology tape, splints, braces, and scheduling a physical therapy visit so they can recommend strengthening exercises.

Start slowly by gradually reintroducing weight-bearing activities on your foot. Kinesiology tape and braces will keep your ankle from rolling as your ligaments heal. A physical therapist is a perfect sports medicine resource in recommending exercises and stretches that won’t cause more damage but will help you regain your range of motion during the healing process.

Getting back on your feet after a sprained ankle is no small feat. With a few helpful tips, you’ll learn how to safely take your first steps after a sprained ankle.

Take Small Steps & Walk Slowly

The first time you walk, walk slowly with small steps. This will give yourself time to adjust to the feeling of walking on a sprained ankle and allow for any adjustments you need in your balance. Be sure to take your time and allow yourself time to shift weight properly off your injured foot to ensure a secure and balanced step.

Anti-inflammatory Medication

Taking ibuprofen or naproxen after ankle sprain will reduce pain and inflammation. This will aid in the healing process, letting you start moving sooner without discomfort. For more serious sprains, your doctor can also prescribe narcotic pain relievers.

Remove Hazards

This may seem obvious, but now is not the time to have a messy house. When you get back on your feet the last thing you need is to trip over toys, shoes, or anything else laying around your house. Remove any tripping hazards in your house to keep yourself safe from a fall.

RICE

compressing sprained ankle

Apply the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) after an ankle sprain. Rest for the first few days, place an ice pack on your ankle for 20 minute intervals, use an elastic bandage to compress your ankle, and elevate your foot above the level of your heart when possible.

Click here for more on ice and heat for a sprained ankle

Apply Heat After Initial Injury

 

Heat helps to improve blood flow, but shouldn't be used right away. After initial injury you'll want to use ice to reduce swelling but once your sprained ankle starts to heal apply heat. This will help loosen stiff joints and improve mobility. 

Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy for Injuries

Start Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can help you keep your ankle muscles limber without risking reinjury. In just a few visits, they can teach you a few helpful exercises to speed your recovery and strengthen muscles to prevent sprains in the future.

Learn more about the benefits of physical therapy post injury or surgery.

Crutches

For more severe sprains, you’ll want to keep your body weight off the joint for weeks until it has fully healed. Crutches are an effective way to stay mobile without putting unnecessary strain on your ankle.

Stretch

Dedicate time to stretching the injured ligaments regularly. Perform a simple towel stretch, with a wash cloth or stretch strap wrapped around the ball of your foot and gently pull your foot towards your body. You should feel a stretch down your calf and into your ankle.

Here are some more easy stretches for a sprained ankle.

Kinesio Tape

Ankle KT

Kinesio tape can help stabilize your ankle by increasing your body’s proprioception. The tape increases your awareness of your ankle and its relationship to the rest of your body. Use kinesiology tape during activities or rehab for an easy, inexpensive way to aid in recovery.

How to Wrap a Sprained Ankle

Ankle Braces and Boots

woman_stretching_ankle_brace

Wearing an ankle brace when you walk on a sprained ankle will provide the best ankle stabilization. Ankle braces vary in the amount of compression and immobility they provide. Here we will cover a few different ankle braces to help you determine the right one for you.

  • Light Support Ankle Braces

    If you have a mild ankle sprain or are looking to prevent a sprained ankle then a light support ankle brace is the solution for you. This is a compression sleeve style brace that doesn’t immobilize your foot. It compresses the entire ankle, thereby reducing swelling, bruising, and pain. The slight compression can also help improve blood flow to the area which will reduce healing time.

  • Medium Support Ankle Braces

    A medium support ankle brace will give your ankle more stability and consistent compression. This type of brace is used for more severe sprains when ankle instability is a concern. Medium support braces will have adjustable Velcro straps for maximum protection. Some braces will also have laces as an added adjustable piece.

  • Heavy Support - Braces & Boots

    The hard, plastic ankle braces and boots are reserved for the most severe cases. These braces reduce or eliminate side to side ankle mobility. They are a good solution for people with the worst ankle stability but shouldn’t be used in less severe cases. Using a heavy support ankle brace can weaken your ankle by not forcing the muscles and ligaments to work as they are intended to. If you are unsure which support is best for you, talk to your doctor.

    How to Choose the Best Ankle Brace for You

Ankle Strengthening Tips

After spraining your ankle, the chance of reinjury only increases. That makes it crucial to find effective prevention strategies that can keep your ankle strong for the long term. The best way to strengthen your ankle is to find the right stretches and exercises that can safely build muscle and restore your joint.

Best Stretches for a Sprained Ankle

Easy Exercises for a Sprained Ankle

There is also a range of exercise equipment that can help tailor your recovery exactly to your needs. Try one of these to put some variety into your stretches and exercise:

  • A calf stretcher is a great way to keep the muscles in the lower leg limber and strong.
  • A pedal exerciser can make cardio easy, even when you’re not able to put weight on your ankle.
  • A foam balance pad lets you work out the muscles in your feet, ankles, and legs while improving coordination.
  • Try a stretch strap to expand your repertoire of stretches.

How Long Should You Wait to Walk on a Sprained Ankle?

Generally speaking, the sooner you can walk on your ankle the better. If it is not too painful to walk on your ankle immediately after an injury it’s a good sign that you don’t have severe ligament or bone damage.

Take it easy for the first 24 to 72 hours. Use a compression bandage to reduce swelling and follow the RICE protocol. If you are having ankle pain that is so severe that you can’t walk on your foot then don’t. Listen to your body and it will guide you through recovery. And as always, talk to your doctor to determine if you have a severe injury that will require further treatment.

Your recovery time will depend on the severity of your ankle sprain.

  • Grade 1
    Sprains are relatively minor injuries and will be tender for just a few days.
  • Grade 2
    Sprains show some tissue tears and can take up to 4 weeks to recover from.
  • Grade 3
    Sprains are more severe with a complete tear of the ligament and may require surgery as well as 4 to 8 weeks of recovery.

When Should I Talk to a Doctor?

Since an ankle sprain can vary so widely in severity, it can be hard to know when it’s necessary to talk to a doctor and when it isn’t. When making your decision, watch out for these signs:

  • An open wound at the site of injury
  • A fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You aren’t able to put weight on your foot
  • Any signs of infection
  • Any deformity of the foot
  • Prolonged severe pain or swelling

Walking on a Sprained Ankle Safely

A sprained ankle is a common injury whose treatment had historically been to “walk it off”. We’ve learned that ignoring pain and continuing activity is not the best plan. Once you’ve recovered from the acute phase of injury walking on a sprained ankle can be nerve-wracking. Using a support brace and knowing when and how to walk properly can make all the difference in your recovery.

Sources:

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprained-ankle/

https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/te7557

SHOP SPRAINED ANKLE PRODUCTS
Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.



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