This question came in via email from a fan of the column:
“Paul, any tips for recovering from an ankle sprain quickly.
I’m a middle distance runner and couldn’t resist the temptation to get out and do my usual route despite the ice on the ground. The ice unfortunately, got the better of me.
And tips would be greatly appreciated”.
– Erica, Darlington. 37
So here’s the thing with ankle sprains. First, they are much more common in winter – and especially when it’s icy. Why? Well, it exposes how good your reactions are and specifically, your balance.
And what most road runners don’t realise is that if all they ever do is run on the road, then their balance is likely to be very poor. Now I’m not saying that they can’t stay on their feet as such. No, but what I am saying is that they will suffer more from things like ankle sprains simply because their running habit predisposes them to it.
Let me explain:
Running on the same flat surfaces effectively “nullifies” your bodies reflexes. Ok, not completely, but certainly lowers them because your body is pounding the same stable surface every night, doing so it eventually conditions it’s self to realising that there’s unlikely to be any need to remain alert (to a fall), because you’re always running on a flat surface!
And your brain is ALWAYS looking for ways to not have to work. Including switching off a few balance receptors when it realises you’re running on the same path – again. It thinks, “you were ok last night, you’ll be ok again tonight – keep going, I’ll have a rest!”.
But when the ice comes along, and your brain switches back on to the danger you face, unfortunately these balance receptors in you ankle ligaments, well, they don’t always want to play ball! Not as quickly as you need them anyway.
See, receptors in your ligaments work at lightning fast speeds to send messages to the brain to help you as you’re almost about to fall over. And if they don’t get there in time, you can’t possibly move your body position in time to stop the fall from taking place. The result: an ankle sprain or worse.
So the trick, is this: vary the surface that you run on.
Even if it’s just adding a little bit of grass, mud or sand to the route – it will force your brain into thinking that it always has to stay alert because it doesn’t know what’s coming next. Your receptors are also more alert and if you do all of a sudden take a little fall, you’re in a much better position to limit the damage.
It’s not a fool proof plan – nothing is – but it’s the best way to do it. Better that than an ankle sprain which could leave you out of the running shoes for anything up to 4 weeks and even more likely to sufferer a recurrence in the future.
And then an increase in the likelihood of Achilles tendon issues, too.
Back to Erica’s question… what to do about an ankle sprain: Ice for the first 7 days, gentle stretching and walking early on and then begin to strengthen the ligament again for the next couple of weeks. The goal is to SAFELY get the ankle joint and Achilles tendon moving again – as fast as possible. To be sure, talk to a local physio who’ll guide you through the next few weeks safely or look here to get a free report on ways to get back from common sports injuries, quickly: www.paulgoughphysio.com/sports-injury-clinic