How to avoid an ankle injury

Katharine Green

Last weekend I finally did a walk that I had been wanting to do for weeks, through the stunning scenery around the village of Hawkedon, accompanied by family and friends, and very fine weather. What more could one ask for? Unfortunately one important ingredient was missing….. my poles. Unless we are all walking with poles, dogs and children are not entirely compatible. Firstly when tired children need a hand to pull them along and secondly they propel me along at too fast a rate.

Not far from the outset of our walk, whilst busily chatting and admiring the view (nosing at someone’s garden across the valley), I missed my footing and sprained my ankle. Rather than hobbling back to the car, I did everything one shouldn’t do and soldiered on for another 1.5 hours. Finally putting ice on it when we reached the pub. The cider helped too.

On returning home I refreshed my memory on the best treatment for ankle sprains. RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Rest – stop the activity that caused the injury and rest the injured joint or muscle. Avoid activity for the first 48 to 72 hours after injuring yourself. Your GP may recommend you use crutches. Ice – for the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury, apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours during the day. Compression – compress or bandage the injured area to limit any swelling and movement that could damage it further. Elevation – keep the injured area raised and supported on a pillow to help reduce swelling.

Most healthcare professionals recommend you should not stop using a sprained joint, because the injury will heal quicker if you begin to move the joint as soon as you are able to do so without experiencing significant pain. Your doctor may be able to teach you a range of exercises that will help you improve the joint's functionality.

For the first 72 hours after a sprain or muscle strain, you should avoid HARM. This means you should avoid:

Heat – such as hot baths, saunas or heat packs. Alcohol – drinking alcohol will increase bleeding and swelling, and slow healing. Running – or any other form of exercise that could cause more damage. Massage – which may increase bleeding and swelling.

Ankle sprains are very common, some 25,000 people do it everyday.

While it is common to think that to prevent ankle sprains you should focus solely on strengthening the muscles around your ankles, in fact – and maybe more importantly – you must also concentrate your efforts on improving the strength of the muscles around your hips. Research demonstrates that when you sprain an ankle, not only do the connective tissues that support it become loose and less responsive but it also shuts down the glute muscles – decreasing the ability to maintain balance and proper lower body alignment. As a result, the lack of ligament support and decreased balance increases the risk of reinjuring your ankle. Without proper reconditioning, over time the hip muscles become less and less active and do not help protect the ankle, making you more susceptible to further ankle sprains and other injuries.

The most effective way to recondition your ankles and prevent future sprains is by doing exercises that wake-up and strengthen key muscles around the hips – i.e. glute muscles – as well as those that challenge your ability to balance on one leg and maintain proper alignment.

I have no doubt that if I had been Nordic walking this would probably not have happened. Walking with poles is not a guarantee, but they can significantly reduce the risk of injury. Nordic walking makes you concentrate on your gait, the movement of foot rolling, from heal to toe, and focusing on the horizon, whilst glancing at the path ahead.

As both the Nordic Walking East Anglia instructors have sprained their ankle within the last year, notably not when Nordic walking, it just shows it can happen to anyone, so wherever possible pick up some poles and look where you are going.

Information on sprained ankle treatment from the NHS website

Get in touch

In order to answer your enquiry more quickly, please complete this form and submit it to us. We will endeavour to respond as quickly as possible.

Stay in touch

If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming events and classes, please sign up to our newsletter which we send out six times a year.