How to Hike with a Sprained Ankle

Every adventurer knows just how inconvenient a sprained ankle can be. I have managed to sprain my ankles more times than I would like to admit. With this most recent injury, I have made myself a test subject to find the best ways to hike despite the damaged ankle. While it is not advised, if you simply can’t resist hitting the trail (like me), here are some tips to make it bit more enjoyable.

  1. Assess the damage. Before you go, make sure you don’t have a severe sprain. This usually comes along with intense swelling and bruising. If you’re in seriously bad shape, you may want to rest for a few extra days before testing your luck. This article can help you determine how bad you are hurt.
  2. Take some Ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Remember this when you exclaim, “Wow! My ankle feels great!” so you don’t push it too hard. The pain may be dulled, but the injury is still there.
  3. Stretch and warm up. A common exercise is to write the alphabet in the air with your big toe. This allow your ankle to open up and move in all directions. Calf-raises are also good since they do not require your ankle to move sideways, which is often how ankle sprains occur.
  4. Support: High-top boots and a brace are vital. I have a pair of “active” ankle braces that allow the foot to move forward and backward without letting it rotate sideways. You can find them here for about $35 a piece. Having good socks on underneath is also helpful to avoid blisters. Finally, carry an ACE wrap in case you need additional support on the trail.
  5. Walking stick or trekking poles. A little extra balance is great. These will also take some pressure off your lower body.
  6. Keep your eyes front. When you are hiking, look where you want to step not at the roots and sticks you want to avoid. Your mind will guide you where you point your eyes. Try to keep your gaze about 20 feet ahead to see features before you are on top of them.
  7. Take it slow and rest often. You are hurt after all, right?
  8. RICE: once you are done hiking, take care of that injury! Being active is important but ligaments need love from time-to-time. The most common care for a sprain is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. I suggest using my own method of SPRICE which adds in Stop and Protect.

    Other tips

  1. Stick to familiar trails so you know the terrain and obstacles before heading out.
  2. Give yourself a few days to heal before testing it on a trail.
  3. Bring a buddy for support (physical and moral).
  4. If it hurts, take a rain check. The trails will be there next week.

I hope your ankle heals quickly!

Happy hiking,

-Michael J. Flora

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