For most people, running is a great fitness choice. It’s typically possible to run almost any time and almost any place. Running requires no special equipment except a good pair of shoes. As a bonus, it’s very easy to adjust your fitness routine, in terms of number of miles, to fit your daily schedule.
However, running is hard on the ankles. The injury risk is not so bad that it should dissuade you from running, but it is too significant to simply ignore. Understanding the two basic types of ankle injuries, as well as some injury recovery tips, makes it easier to bounce back from these wounds or even avoid them altogether.
Ankle sprains are the most common type of injury, and inversion ankle sprains account for about 85 percent of these injuries. In other words, most runners will sprain their ankle at one time or another, and it’s almost always because the ankle rolls overly inward. That sudden, unnatural motion strains the outside ligaments.
Depending on the severity of the sprain and some other risk factors, recovery could take a couple of days, a couple of weeks, or a couple of months. Surgery or physical therapy usually aren’t necessary if you apply the RICE method:
- Rest: Try not to put any stress on the injured ankle. Use crutches to move around. If the sprain is moderate or severe, to avoid prolonged inactivity, consider biking or swimming until the injury heals.
- Ice: The “to ice or not to ice” debate is as strong as ever. There’s solid evidence on both sides. So, a compromise is probably in order. Ice the injury frequently, but just for the first forty-eight hours or so. Moreover, apply cold over a larger area to avoid over-icing tissue.
- Compression: Customized support for injured ankles may be the most important component. If the ankle is not properly supported, the ligaments take a lot longer to heal because they are pulling double duty (healing themselves and providing support).
- Elevation: There’s a strong debate here as well. Elevation decreases swelling, but it also decreases necessary blood flow. Once again, try to find a middle ground. Punctuate extended elevation with an occasional massage.
Once the injured ankle acts, feels, and looks just like the uninjured one, the wound is most likely healed. Don’t resume normal activities until that happens because the risk of re-injury is quite significant.
Ankle fractures are much less common than sprains. If the ankle is deformed, the bone is probably broken. Moreover, if you are unable to put any weight at all on the ankle, you most likely have a fractured bone. It will hurt a lot to put weight on a sprained ankle, but it is usually possible.
To prevent sprains and fractures, try to run on a well-lit designated running surface, like an outdoor or indoor track. If that’s not possible, run on the streets instead of the sidewalk. Streets are usually more even and well-lit than sidewalks, and you’re also more visible to traffic when you’re on the street. Just remember to be careful out there.
Tendonitis, and especially Achilles tendonitis, is probably the most common ankle overuse injury. The Achilles tendon is the largest such muscle in the body, so it also bears a lot of the weight and stress of running. Tendonitis in and of itself is not very serious. But if it’s not addressed properly, scar tissue will develop, and then you may have a real problem.
Once again, the RICE method and prevention are the best ways to avoid this injury. There are a lot of lightweight ankle braces available that provide additional support while running. Moreover, always increase your mileage gradually, especially if you are just starting out.
Some other overuse injuries include shin splints, stress fractures, and bursitis. Calcaneal bursitis is technically a heel injury, but the same principles apply.