Tips for recovery from foot and ankle injuries

Sooner or later, we’re all going to have a foot and ankle injury. Whether it involves rolling your ankle, getting it twisted or spraining your foot, you can take steps to restore your foot and ankle strength, range of motion and health.

The first four steps to take immediately upon injuring your foot and ankle can be summarized by the acronym RICE, which stands for:

  • Rest — For the first 24 to 48 hours after injuring your foot and ankle, keep weight off of it. Allow your body to devote as many resources as possible to healing.
  • Ice — Use an ice pack or even a package of frozen peas to apply cold directly to the injury, 10 to 15 minutes per hour. This reduces both pain and swelling. Some swelling is not only normal, it’s necessary for healing. Keep icing for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury.
  • Compression — Wrap a tensor or compression bandage around the ankle to hold the ice pack in place, to reduce swelling and to support the injured ankle. Wrap the bandage snugly, but not so tight as to restrict blood circulation.
  • Elevation — Lie back and raise your ankle above the level of your ear to reduce the blood pressure in the injured area and reduce swelling.

Don’t use these:

  • alcohol
  • exercise or any other additional stress to the injury
  • heat such as a bath or heat pack
  • massage.

Seek motion after the injury

Most doctors do not recommend icing after the first 72 hours following an injury.

As soon as possible, try to normalize motion. Move the injured foot with your hands, or have someone help you normalize motion as quickly as possible. When the swelling and pain diminish, begin exercises to restore your range of motion, muscle tone and flexibility.

Remember to wear supportive footwear that does not put pressure on injured areas—not high heels. Begin with simple exercises. You can try 10 reps of the following exercises, taking long breaks in between until your foot and ankle begin to heal:

  • rotate the ankle to point the toes up, hold, then down again and hold
  • “write” the alphabet on the floor with your big toe
  • press the side of your injured foot against a solid, preferably padded object, and hold for a count of 10, then press in the opposite direction, and repeat
  • press downward with your toes for a count of 10.

When you begin to regain motion and flexibility, you can start to rebuild strength.

  • Loop a theraband or other elastic under your foot. Holding the ends in your hands, push your toes down, stretching the band. Hold for a count of ten, release slowly, and repeat.
  • Tie the band around a fixed object, loop it over the tops of your toes, and pull up as far as possible. Hold for a count of 10, relax slowly, and repeat.
  • With the band tied to a fixed object, loop the band around your foot and rotate first in one direction, hold and relax; then turn around and rotate in the other direction.

Balance is critical to foot and ankle strength

Stand where you can grab something quickly if you start to fall. Stand on one foot on a flat floor for 10 seconds, then slowly place your other foot down and increase its load until both feet are even. Then stand on the other foot.

Increase the duration of this exercise each day until you can easily stand on one foot for 60 seconds. You can increase the difficulty by standing on a folded towel or using a balance board.

Heel raises — Stand first on two feet, then on one at a time. Lift your heel up so you are standing on your toes, hold that position for a few seconds, then lower it. Gradually increase the time you hold your heel extended.

Lunges — Stand up straight with your feet parallel. Step forward with one foot, then lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor. Rise slowly and repeat five times. Switch legs and do it with the other leg again.

Once you have mastered these exercises and restored your body to full strength and range of motion, you can return to sports. If and when you do experience a foot and ankle injury, turn to the professionals at Heiden Orthopedics for the care of your foot and ankle in Salt Lake City Utah.

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