Tips for diagnosing and treating ankle twists, sprains and breaks.
Posted Tuesday, 9 December, 1997
There's no missing it when this happens. You're running along, you step in a hole, and -- bam! -- your foot turns sideways, and pain flames through your ankle and lower leg. The pain may not be too extreme at first, but if the twist is serious enough, swelling follows and probably a few bruises, too.
Stop running immediately after the twist. You should take this seriously, even if the pain seems mild. Too many runners do a little obligatory limping then start running again only a minute or two after twisting an ankle. It's a big mistake, and it will make the pain and swelling a lot worse if you have sprained or broken the ankle. What might have been a mild sprain can become a chronic one if you try to run through it.
When you get home, elevate your foot by putting it up on a chair and then ice your ankle. This is the prescription for the next 24 hours: keep the foot up and ice constantly, ten minutes on, ten minutes off. When you go to bed, prop your foot up with a pillow or two.
The next day, if there is little or no swelling, it was probably only a mild twist. No worries. But if the ankle is swollen and painful, you have either a fracture or some torn ligaments (a sprain). See a doctor right away. If it's a break the doctor will put your ankle in a walking boot or a hard cast, but if it's a sprain you may get away with only a taped ankle or a soft cast. The idea here is to limit your ankle's range of motion to help healing. Do not run until all pain and swelling have disappeared.