Sprained Ankle – what to do if you’re out and about

March 26, 2013 in Newsletters

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time for hiking and walks in the countryside. However, one wrong step may ruin all the fun.

Ankle sprains and strains occur when ligaments or tendons around the ankle are pulled, resulting in swelling and difficulty walking.

If you hurt your ankle while out hiking, here’s what you need to do:

1. Rest. Take a break and examine the ankle. Elevate the ankle if possible or sit on the ground with your leg out in front of you. Try not to rest for too long so as not to delay your return to civilization.

2. Cool the area. If you have something cold available (for example, cold water), soak a cloth and apply this to the affected joint. If you’re near the sea or a stream, try to immerse the joint in the water. This will help with both the pain and swelling.

3. Bandage the ankle. This will help support the joint and allow you to walk back to the beginning of the trail. Check beyond the bandage every 10 minutes or so by pressing one of the toes. If the circulation is not impaired, the toe should regain colour almost immediately. Loosen the bandage slightly if the toe takes some time to regain color.
If you don’t have a bandage, try to improvise with what you do have with you. If you’re wearing boots, tighten the boots as much as possible to provide support, but without impairing circulation.
Avoid leaving your shoe/boot off for too long. Once you remove your shoe, the swelling will increase and you may not be able to put your shoe back on again.

4. Lean on a stick or a fellow hiker. This reduces the weight that you put on the injured joint and also helps with balancing on uneven ground.

It is always important to assess the severity of the injury. If you hear a “popping” or “snapping” sound, or the area is bruised and discolored  the injury is possibly worse than a simple sprain or strain. Get medical help quickly and avoid putting any weight on the joint.

Once back in civilization:

Follow the R.I.C.E. rule – Rest, Ice, Comfort and Elevation.

Rest: Ideally, reduce or stop using the injured joint for at least 48 hours. If this is not possible, rest your ankle when you can, for example by resting it on a chair in front of you while sitting.

Ice: Put an ice pack on the injured area and compress slightly for not more than 10 minutes at a time, between 4 to 8 times a day as required. You can use a bag of frozen peas, a plastic bag filled with crushed ice, or anything cold that can fit around the injured joint. Don’t apply ice directly to skin as this can cause frostbite or “ice burns”.

Comfort: Provide a comfortable support for the injured area.

Elevation: When possible, keep the injured area elevated slightly above the heart. This helps in easing pain and swelling. When lying down, use a pillow to raise the leg and provide cushioning to the tender joint.

It is advisable to…
• Visit a doctor as soon as possible after getting injured.
• Get back to civilization immediately. Don’t try to continue hiking as you will only do more harm to your ankle. Ignoring the pain may result in a recovery that is much longer than a couple of days.