Sprained ankles are a common injury which can result in pain and loss of mobility, making everyday activities difficult to carry out.
This can be especially frustrating if you are an athlete, as sprains can put you out of action and seriously interfere with your training regime.
A sprain is an injury to the ligaments which are thick bands of tissue which connect bone to bone. There are 11 of these ligaments around the ankle which make the joint stable, strong and flexible. They are made up mostly of collagen, but have a low blood supply, meaning that sprains can take longer to heal than other types of injury.
The Symptoms of Ankle SprainIf you sprain your ankle, you may hear a popping sound and feel severe pain as the injury happens. Following this, you may experience a number of different symptoms including:
- Ankle pain
- Swelling and stiffness around the ankle
- Difficulty walking
- Lack of flexibility in the ankle
A sprained ankle can take anywhere between a few weeks and several months to fully heal, depending on the severity. So if you have sustained this type of injury, you will want to do everything you can to help your body repair itself faster.
Treatment for Ankle Sprain
When you first sprain your ankle, you should apply the RICE principle. Rice stands for: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
Rest – Rest as much as possible after your injury
Ice – Apply an ice pack for 20 – 30 minutes as soon as possible after sustaining the injury and repeat 3 - 4 times daily as necessary. Generally we frown on using ice, but in this case it is appropriate. Don't ice more than 24 hours after an injury.
Compression – Wrap your ankle in a compression bandage to reduce swelling, but do not wrap it too tightly. It should be tight enough to support your ankle but loose enough to allow blood to circulate
Elevation – Raise your ankle to the level of your heart whenever you are sitting or lying down. This helps to improve circulation and stops blood from pooling around the sprain
You can also reduce swelling, pain and inflammation by taking medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or painkillers such as acetominaphen. However, these can cause unpleasant side effects and are not suitable for everyone to take.
Severely sprained ankles may require surgery and/or rehabilitation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Ankle Sprain
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers a safe and natural way to relive the pain and swelling caused by sprained ankles and speed up recovery time.
From a TCM perspective, sprains happen when physical trauma interrupts the flow of qi and blood. According to TCM, qi and blood are two of the most important substances for our health and well-being. In order for us to stay well, they need to be allowed to flow freely through the meridians and blood vessels to nourish all parts of the body.
When this cannot happen due to a physical injury such as a sprained ankle, qi and blood become stuck in a particular area and begin to stagnate. This causes the familiar symptoms of pain, swelling, stiffness and bruising which we often see with sprains and strains.
There are six channels called meridians which flow over the ankle and any of these could be affected by a sprain. Spraining the inner ankle could affect the Kidney, Liver or Spleen meridians. Spraining the outer ankle could affect the Bladder or Gallbladder meridians. Sprains to the front of the ankle would affect the Stomach meridian.
When you go for your first consultation, your practitioner will decide which meridian is being affected by looking at exactly where you are experiencing pain. They will then use acupuncture to treat both the local area, and points further away to make the treatment more effective. If you are prone to strains and sprains, they will select points to strengthen any underlying weaknesses as well as relieving your current symptoms. You also be prescribed herbal medicine if appropriate.
The benefits of acupuncture when treating painful conditions are:
- It influences the central nervous system, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain
- It releases endorphins, opiate like chemicals produced by the body to naturally relieve pain
- It reduces inflammation to relieve pain, swelling and stiffness
- It improves circulation to speed up the healing process
How to Avoid Ankle Sprain
Prevention is always better than cure, and there are a number of simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of ankle sprain.
- Always warm up properly by stretching before exercise
- Ease into unfamiliar activities gradually by starting off with slow, gentle exercise and building up over time
- Do not overexert yourself to the point where your muscles become fatigued
- Take extra care if you have a history of strains and sprains or if you are overweight as this can put extra pressure on your ankle joints
- Always wear appropriate footwear for the type of exercise you are doing
Your ankles are complex joints which need to be taken care of. Look after them well and you can avoid the risk of ankle sprain, even if you exercise regularly. However, if things do go wrong, TCM offers a safe and natural solution to help you get back on your feet faster.