How to Ease Ankle Pain as Soon as it Strikes, and Return to Exercise Safely

Ankle Pain

Ankle Pain

Sometimes it happens…

You’re out on a run, enjoying the pace. You finally feel like you can run a little farther than you did last time, then all of a sudden- OUCH! Something in your ankle doesn’t feel quite right…

So you slow down, give it a stretch, and give running another attempt, but nope! Your ankle won’t have it, it’s just too painful…

Sound familiar?

Well, this is exactly what happened to one of our patients, Leanne, just a few months ago.

Just before Thanksgiving, Leanne decided to take up running again, in addition to walking her dogs at Thunderbird Park every morning, just to try something different to keep active.

She started slow, running gently for 15 minutes at a time on the weekends and finishing off with a slow walk to cool down.

Gradually over the next few weeks running felt easier, so she decided to pick up the pace one weekend, running a few extra miles uphill. All of a sudden- ping! Shooting ankle pain came out of nowhere. Leanne hasn’t been able to run since…

In fact, her ankle pain has been so bad that she hasn’t been able to get out and run for a whole 6 WEEKS! Which can feel like a long time when you’re missing out on doing something that you enjoy!

In an ideal runner’s world (and this applies to people who enjoy walking, too!), every step of every mile would be one hundred percent pain-free.

That means, no aches, no twinges, no lingering soreness from yesterday’s activity. But the reality is, this is one of the most common problems we see with people who enjoy to run or walk long distances.

Here’s the thing… we’re not designed to run and walk uphill for long periods of time, nor do we need to!

Sure you might work a bit harder by running uphill, but this adds a huge amount of stress to your ankle and Achilles tendon in doing so.

Let me explain why it’s likely to do more harm than good…

Think of your Achilles tendon as an elastic band. When running or walking uphill, this elastic band gets stretched too far. The Achilles tendon connects the 2 major calf muscles to the back of the heel. Under too much stress, the tendon can tighten and become irritated, causing you pain every time you go running or even walk up the stairs!

This is not an injury that you should run or walk through. If you catch a minor strain early, a few days off might be sufficient healing time. But if you keep running as usual, you could develop something more serious that may even take up to six months to heal!

So what’s the number one thing to do right away if you’re suffering from this pain right now? Or if it strikes in the future?

Complete rest of the ankle for a few days (think arms only swimming, or heels only pedaling on a recumbent bike) and LOTS of ice!

Swap your footwear for soft, comfy shoes. There’s no need to wrap your ankle up or wear supports- just apply ice. We recommend applying ice for 10 minutes every hour if possible.

After 2-3 days, begin to apply some deep massage and gentle stretching, working on the ankle joint to prevent stiffness and get rid of swelling.

Pro tip: If you’re going to walk or run uphill (because sometimes these things can’t be avoided), stand as tall as possible and spend a month before you start running. Use a balance ball, core, and pilates exercises to make your back and ankle strong, so that you can safely run and avoid this happening to you!

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Nick Hunter, PT, DPT

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