Running and Ankle Injuries
Previously, we’ve shared a plan to help you get started on a running program in a safe manner and provided some tips for reducing injury risk while doing so.
We also noted that it’s basically impossible to reduce all injury risk. After all, when a body is in motion, there’s simply always going to be a chance things go wrong.
A prime example—one we’ll be talking about shortly—is an ankle sprain.
For this particular injury, your foot twists beyond its intended range – which is something that can even happen while walking out to your mailbox or when you go up or down stairs.
Understanding injuries can be beneficial in learning how to lower injury risk. More than that, though, it is very helpful in recognizing problems and knowing when to seek professional care and treatment!
In Spite of Injury Risk, Running is a Great Choice
We’ve touched on this in the past, but it’s worth repeating – running is an outstanding form of exercise.
Now, you don’t have to be a marathoner (unless you want to!) to receive the wide range of benefits you can receive from running. Your body will love it if you simply hitting any of our local trials—Conservation District Trail, Constitution Trail, Lake of the Woods Path, etc.—or heading out with a running group like the Lake Run Club a couple of times per week.
When you do, your resting heart rate will drop, you burn more calories, and you just feel better. Seriously, the physical, emotional, and even mental benefits to running—and other forms of exercise—are myriad.
In addition to those benefits, another reason running is still a great choice (even though you might sustain a foot or ankle injury) is the fact that a vast majority of running injuries are effectively treated with conservative care.
That means the odds are very good you won’t need surgery!
Further, as noted, there are measures you can take to at least minimize your injury risk.
All things considered, starting a running program—if you are strategic and follow a smart plan—can be incredibly beneficial.
Running and Ankle Injuries
With running, ankles (along with feet) are particularly at risk for injury. This makes complete sense when you consider their role—moving a foot up and down—in every step you take.
On top of their function, the structure of ankles also plays a part in injury.
For being such essential joints, the ankle joints—and, as you’ll see, there are really two of them (although, there’s a third not worth noting in this context)—are actually not particularly robust.
Basically, there are four bones worth noting with regards to your ankles: the tibia (shinbone), fibula (smaller lower leg bone), talus, and calcaneus. Going from the bottom up, the talus sits on top of the calcaneus (your heel bone). The subtalar joint – which is mainly used for side-to-side foot movement is at this point.
On top of the talus are the two lower leg bones. Where these bones all meet is what is known as the “true” ankle joint or ankle joint proper. (Technically, it’s the talocrural joint.) This joint is used for up-and-down foot movement.
The respective bones are all connected with various ligaments.
So what kinds of ankle injuries do people sustain from running?
Well, some of the more common ones include ankle sprains (as noted), ankle instability, and ankle fractures.
One of the most common injuries humans—both runners and nonrunners alike—sustain are sprained ankles.
So what exactly is a sprain?
Sprains are soft tissue injuries that happen when ligaments—the connective tissues that bind bones together (often in joints)—are twisted, wrenched, or stretched beyond their intended range-of-motion as the result of physical trauma.
When this happens, the ligaments either stretch or tear. In turn, this leads to inflammation, swelling, pain, and sometimes even an inability to move the affected joint.
Although sprains can happen in areas like the big toe and midfoot regions of the foot, they are most often experienced in the ankle. In part, this can be attributed to their placement on the human body – right underneath all of our bodyweight. When a foot turns or twists too far, the weight puts extra physical stress on the ankle’s ligaments as they try to hold everything together.
If you sprain an ankle, and especially if the injury happens while running or during an athletic activity (game, practice, etc.), the first thing you need to do is remove yourself from the activity. Then it’s time for RICE (not the grain!).
If you see it in all caps like that, RICE typically stands for:
- Rest – This is a key component of first aid for sprained ankles, but too often people attempt to resume normal activities too quickly. Instead, of attempting to get back to your running routine prematurely, take some time and give your body rest so it can repair damaged tissue.
- Ice – Icing your sprained ankle will help to not only reduce swelling and inflammation in the area, but it can help decrease pain as well. When applying ice, be sure to wrap it in a thin towel in order to prevent damaging your skin.
- Compression – Much like ice, compression is a valuable first aid step that will help to reduce swelling. When you wrap up your ankle, be careful you do not wrap it too tight. If you start to feel tingling followed by numbness, loosen the wrap a bit.
- Elevation – A great way to supplement the rest you are giving your injured ankle is to lay down and prop your foot up on some pillows. Keeping the affected joint above heart level will further help to decrease swelling in the area.
RICE is a time-proven method for relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and getting you started on the path to eventual recovery.
Whereas first aid is a great starting point for treating an ankle sprain, keep in mind that is not the final step. Also, ankle sprains and ankle fractures have several symptoms in common, which highlights the importance of having the injury accurately diagnosed.
Chronic Ankle Instability
One of the remarkable features of the human body is our ability to heal. If you break a bone, it will ultimately mend itself. Suffer a cut, and you will eventually be patched up. The key, though, is that you need to give your body time and rest so that it can perform the necessary repair functions.
If you don’t allow your body to properly resolve certain issues, you risk either reinjuring yourself or developing a chronic condition. When it comes to matter of ankle instability, this is especially evident.
Ankle instability is a condition where a previously-injured ankle feels unstable and wobbly. An affected ankle may give way often, or even lead to recurring ankle sprains. Tenderness, persistent swelling, and discomfort are other symptoms.
Given that instability issues will continue if left untreated, it is best to take action to resolve the problem.
Some of the best tips we have to offer to help keep your ankles stable and avoid a chronic condition center on:
- Braces for activities – Strenuous activities may be too much for your loose joint. Wearing an ankle brace that allows you to move appropriately will protect your joint from “giving out.” We may prescribe a brace as part of your treatment plan, but remember – it only works if you actually wear it!
- Strengthening – Strong muscles will help to provide greater support and stability, so be sure to incorporate our recommended strength training activities in your workout program. (Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean you need to become an Olympic weightlifter!)
- Stretching – Keep the connective tissues in your ankle joints limber by following our prescribed stretching regimen. This will allow your connective tissues to have the greatest possible range of motion, and not become sprained so easily.
- Sufficient recovery – When you do become hurt, especially with an ankle sprain, it is important to have the injury diagnosed and treated properly at Heartland Foot and Ankle. We have vast experience in treating ankle injuries and will let you know when it is safe to resume your normal activities!
Some cases of ankle instability are effectively resolved with conservative treatment, but there are certainly instances where surgery is recommended. In these times, we may need to shorten or tighten ankle ligaments, or transfer a tendon from the lower leg and use it as an outer ligament to support the ankle.
Ankle fractures—as is the case with virtually any fracture—can range in severity. On the less-concerning end of the spectrum are simple breaks in a single bone, which might not necessarily keep you from being able to walk. At the other end, having several fractures in an ankle can prevent you from placing weight on the affected limb for several months.
As you might expect, the more bones that are fractured and the greater the severity, the more unstable an ankle will become.
Often (but not always), a broken ankle will also feature damage to the supporting ligaments as well. Accordingly, it is important to have the condition properly diagnosed at our Bloomington office so we can assess the full nature and scope of your injury. Doing so enables us to create a customized treatment plan so you can recover in the shortest possible timeframe.
There are technical names for ankle fractures—based on which bone and location of the fracture—but the most important thing you will likely want to know is – what can be done to resolve the problem?
The answer to that question will depend, naturally, on your specific situation, including the severity of the injury and which bones are affected. For nonsurgical care, we will likely need to stabilize the injured area as the fracture(s) heal. That will likely entail casting and/or medical devices to keep weight off the affected area.
In the case of a severe fracture, and particularly if the fracture is comminuted (bone is broken or splintered into more than two fragments), surgery may be required.
Expert Ankle Injury Care When You Need It
Our hope is always that you are able to stay safe while doing activities you enjoy – like running.
If you take proper precautions, you can reduce your injury risk. Being able to eliminate all injury risk, though, is virtually impossible. In the event you do hurt an ankle—or foot—while running, contact our team at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates.
We provide a range of treatment options and will create a plan customized to your unique situation. One particular treatment option we would like to specifically mention is AmnioFix – an advanced injectable product created with human amniotic membrane allograft (donated excess tissue from child birth that contains natural growth factors).
The natural growth factors in AmnioFix are powerful agents your body already uses to regenerated damaged tissue and promote healing.
This product is completely safe—we wouldn’t offer it otherwise!—and can be thought of as an “espresso shot for the cells,” which makes them work harder and faster to repair the damaged cells at the site of your injury.
Learn more about our AmnioFix treatment option here.
For more information—or to request an appointment—connect with our Bloomington, IL office by calling (309) 661-9975 or contact us online right now.