When we hear about ankle injuries, we tend to think of athletes. But, in truth, athletes are not more at risk than backpackers and hikers. In fact, ankle injuries is one of the most common accidents that occur while camping.
Common Ankle Injuries
The ankle is where the tibia and fibula of your lower leg meet with the talus of your foot. These bones are held together by ligaments, which work as elastic bands of connective tissue; these keep the bones in place and allow normal ankle motion. Tendons attach muscles to the bones, making possible ankle and foot movement and keeping joints stable.
It is important to note that ankle injuries are defined by the kind of tissue that has been damaged: bone, ligament, or tendon.
- Fracture is when there is an actual break in one or more of the bones.
- Sprain is when there is damage to ligaments when they get pulled beyond their range of motion. A ligament sprain can range from many microscopic tears to a complete rupture.
- Strain is when there is damage to muscles & tendons as a result of being stretched too far.
Ankle injuries can happen to anyone at any age, though studies have demonstrated that men between 15 and 24 years old have higher rates of an ankle sprain.
Ankle Sprain Risk Factors
Generally speaking, the factors that increase the risk of a sprained ankle include:
- If you play sports on a regular basis. An ankle sprain is a common sports injury, especially basketball, tennis, football, soccer and trail running.
- Uneven surfaces. Walking or running on uneven surfaces or poor field conditions can raise the chances of an ankle sprain.
- Prior ankle injury. If you’ve sprained your ankle or had another type of ankle injury, you’re more likely to sprain it again.
- Poor physical condition.
- Improper shoes. Shoes that don’t fit properly or aren’t appropriate for certain activity, as well as high-heeled shoes in general, make ankles more vulnerable to injury.
What is an Ankle Sprain?
Anyone involved in a regular physical activity know that an ankle sprain is a common injury. It happens when the ankle rolls in or out suddenly. The abrupt movement causes the ankle joint to move out of place.
If the ankle rolls in, it is called an eversion sprain, affecting the ligaments and tendons along the inner part of the ankle. When it rolls outward, it is called an inversion sprain, affecting the outside ankle ligaments. Both eversion and inversion sprains cause the ligaments to stretch or tear.
The signs of a sprained ankle can vary depending on the severity of the injury. They may include:
- Pain when you bear weight on the affected foot
- Tenderness when you touch the ankle
- Restricted range of motion
- Ankle instability
Considering you have read this far, on your next camping trip you wish to remain free from an ankle sprain…. So, read on!
Injury Prevention – The Basics of Preventing Ankle Sprain
A rule of thumb to prevent an ankle sprain is to use proper footwear when outdoors. Use high tops or boots, and lace up the whole shoe to protect your ankles. You can find a complete guide of proper camping footwear here. Using Nordic or trekking poles can also help prevent slips.
How to Avoid an Ankle Sprain
- Warm up before exercise
- Take care in steep terrain and wet conditions, as you are more likely to slip when it’s… er, slippery.
- When you are tired, cold, dehydrated, rushed or ill, your chances will rise. Under these circumstances, you aren’t thinking clearly and your muscles are less flexible and responsive.
- Studies show that injuries happen more frequently in the late morning and late afternoon since dehydration and fatigue can reduce awareness and increase clumsiness. If you are thinking of carrying out a tough hike, consider shifting from a three-meal-a-day schedule to eating breakfast and dinner plus three or four light snacks during the day; the goal is to keep your energy supply flowing.
- Haste is frequently implicated in accidents. Try to deal with difficult terrain in the morning, when you’re fresh. Take rest breaks before tough sections of a hike. Drink, eat, and stretch tight muscles. Check equipment for loose gear and for poorly balanced backpacks; the idea is to avoid tripping.
- Make sure you work up to it before you go out exploring so you’re ready for any physical demands of your trip.
Of course, even if you follow these recommendations rigorously, there is no guarantee you’ll remain sprain free. If you happen to injure your ankle or if you want to assist someone travelling with you, the first step is to assess the situation.
Assessing a Sprain or other Ankle Injuries
Not every ankle injury will need intervention; so give the affected person 2-5 minutes to compose themselves and then evaluate if assistance is needed.
The rule of thumb in case of an ankle injury is known as R.I.C.E, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
- Rest. Resting and keeping weight off the injured ankle will prevent further damage.
- Ice. Using ice reduces swelling and provides a numbing sensation that can ease the pain.
- Compression. Wrapping the injured ankle will keep it immobile and supported. Be sure not to wrap the ankle too tightly cutting off circulation!
- Elevate. Elevating the injured ankle will reduce swelling and pain.
When assessing the situation, consider these simple tips:
- Do not remove the shoe. Your foot may end up swelling & you won’t be able to get the shoe back on.
- Toe wiggle. Have the person wiggle their toes. If it’s not possible, then it’s time to immobilize.
- Ankle moment. Can the injured person move their foot up and down and then in a circle? If not, it’s time to immobilize!
If you wish to be able to examine an injured ankle and determine the grade of the sprain, you should check out this How To article.
Of course, there is always a possibility that the ankle injury may require the help of medical professionals. Please consider seeing a doctor under these circumstances:
- severe ankle pain
- odd shape
- extreme swelling
- inability to walk more than a few steps
- limited range of motion
- fear of further injury
In the most common scenarios, the person is in mild pain and can’t bear weight… Then, the right choice is to brace the ankle; also, consider taking ibuprofen since it can be helpful to reduce inflammation.
How to Make an Ankle Brace
Bracing the ankle has many advantages and it can help in the following ways:
- To avoid further injury.
- To provide pain relief and help keep swelling down.
- In an extreme situation, it may also help take enough weight on the bad foot to evacuate.
Some important recommendations to bear in mind during the process are:
- Before and after placing a splint or an ankle brace, be sure to check for CSM, that is, circulation, sensation and movement.
- The injured hiker should try to align the foot and leg in a 90˚ angle, but do NOT do so if this causes an increase in pain.
- Also, it is fundamental to get input from them regarding comfort and effectiveness.
The book “Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers” describes three easy and useful techniques for bracing the ankle:
- A SAM splint. A foam-padded, malleable aluminum splint. This type of splint is lightweight and highly effective; some hikers carry one in their backpacks. If a SAM splint is unavailable, you can use whatever material is available. The tape splint and the U splint are easy to build, as described below.
- The Tape Splint. Begin taping on top of the foot, just above the big toe, and wrap to the inside and under the ball of the foot and then around and above the foot to the inside of ankle, following a figure eight, anchoring the tape strip below the calf. Repeat three times with strips of tape side by side. Next, using additional tape, attach one end to the interior of the mid-calf and run directly under the heel and anchor tape to exterior of the leg at mid-calf in stirrup style. Again, repeat three times. This way, you limit the movement of the ankle in all directions.
For more information on how to tape a sprained ankle, you can find a four step process clearly described in this video.
- Improvised U-Splint. Use whatever clothing you have at hand; roll it tightly into a tube. If you are using a shirt, roll from neck to the bottom of the shirt. Position the roll at the center of the sole of the foot. Take the two ends and shape as a stirrup; use tape to secure them just above the ankle and lower leg.
How to Make an Ankle Brace with ACE Bandage
When you are away from normal health care and can’t access medical professionals, something that will ALWAYS come in handy are elastic bandages. Many campers take for granted this item when they bring along a first aid kit. Please beware because many first-aid kits available in the market do not include them. Make sure you choose wisely if you are inexperienced and review this article for tips.
For an easy DIY ankle brace, check out this video with the following steps:
- Wrap the base of your toes a couple of times
- Stretch the bandage up towards the knee in a straight line for stirrup effect and then wrap around the top of your calf a couple of times.
- Slip under this wrapping and stretch the bandage down towards the foot in a straight line and go under the base of your toes, and then coming up in circles around your leg.
- Tuck the end of the bandage in the top of the calf wrapping.
- Pick up another bandage and fill in the brace by wrapping from toes to knee.
If you enjoy camping with regularity or if you are an experienced hiker that likes to be on the safe side, you might consider the possibility of buying an ankle brace. This article serves as an excellent guide.
The author points out that there are key considerations to bear in mind when reviewing products. These are summarized here:
- Mobility vs. support
In general, lace up ankle braces are less restrictive compared to ankle braces that feature rigid stirrups. One solution is to go for the semi-rigid type. Another, to buy one of each. That way, you can switch, depending on how your ankle feels.
- Velcro vs. laces
If you intend to use the ankle brace on a regular basis, you may want to consider going for a lace up type. Though velcro makes it easy to put on and take off an ankle brace, it is not quite as durable. You can find ankle braces that feature both velcro fasteners and laces. Think about which style you prefer before you buy.
- What type of ankle problem do you have?
Your ankle’s condition will tell you what kind of ankle brace you buy. If your ankles are healthy, you probably don’t need that much support. Compression might be all you need; for example, an ankle sleeve.
- How long will you be using the ankle brace?
If you think you will require long-term support for your ankle, make sure you get something with well made materials. Things like double-stitching & other features that will extend the life of an ankle brace.
If there are more size options available, you will have a better chance of getting an ankle brace that fits your ankle well. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s website before you buy to find out how the ankle brace you intend to buy is sized.
- Return policy
If you’re not sure about what kind of ankle brace you need, you may want to consider purchasing several different types. Most manufacturers will let you return your brace if you don’t like it.
- Maintenance and cleaning
Read the instructions and manufacturer’s website to find out everything you need to do to keep your ankle brace clean and fresh. Dirty athletic gear contributes to the spread of MRSA and other dangerous pathogens.
- Price ranges
- Budget: Generally speaking, more support means more cost. The cheapest types of ankle braces are $15 sleeves that compress the ankle area and provide a bit of support.
- Mid-range: Sports ankle braces that come with a bit more support and padding. Expect to pay around $30 for a good one.
- High-end: The most expensive type of ankle braces are for sports. These are equipped with molded supports and other features that hold the ankle firmly in place and usually cost around $50. Medical ankle braces for people with fractures fall into the same price range.
How to Get the Right Ankle Support & Heal an Ankle Sprain Fast
If you have made it to this point, you are definitely a proactive and frequent hiker and the chances you can be a repeat offender in terms of sprained ankles are high. Even if that happens… again and again… check out this article and suggested tips to help you rehabilitate quickly!
As described here, certain exercises can rehabilitate your ankle. Medical professionals may recommend a series of movements designed to restore strength to the area so you avoid future sprains.
Balance and stability training, as well as stretches can improve flexibility and range of motion. The sooner you’re able to start exercising your foot, the better.
Here are a few ideas:
- Walk, with or without crutches.
- Try “drawing” the alphabet with your toes to keep your ankle mobile.
- Stand on one leg for 20 to 60 seconds to strengthen your muscles.
- Sit on a chair with the previously injured foot flat on the floor. Keep your foot flat on the floor while moving your knee from side to side. Do this for two to three minutes.
- Stretch your calf by placing your hands flat on a wall and positioning the injured foot behind you. Straighten the leg and hold for 25 seconds. Do this two to four times.
So, you can consider yourself a pro at this point! You may be or not a professional athlete, but you are now just as knowledgeable as any when it comes to that common ankle injury.