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Why Do Ankle Injuries Take So Long to Heal?

Most physical activities and sports involve the ankle, even swimming, and cycling. The link between a robust and powerful leg and the foot’s action is a crucial part of our performance. We use our ankles to land on, kick with, finesse a ball, and move our body through all movement planes. Its physical load is enormous. We cannot walk, drive, play sports, or do household tasks without involving the ankle joint. When injured, our reliance on the ankle becomes painfully apparent, and we realize that we often take this critical joint for granted.

The ankle joint is complex and is formed by the meeting of three bones. The two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) are joined to the foot’s large bone (talus) by a synovial hinge joint. A hinge joint allows for two movements, and in the ankle, this means pointing the foot downward (plantarflexion) and pulling the toes upward (dorsiflexion). Holding the three bones together is partially achieved by two sets of ligaments that control the ankle joint’s movement.

Research has shown that the ankle is the most often injured joints in the human body. All too often, the ankle is sprained when the joint is rolled outwards (inversion). This is the most common type of ankle sprain because the lateral ligaments tend to be weak.  When the ankle is sprained, it is the partial or complete tearing in the ligaments, and it typically occurs when the foot is rolled too far inward or too far outward. A sprain can result in pain, swelling, and an inability to put weight on that foot. You may also see bruising around the ankle joint, and it may be painful to touch. There can be a wide range in the amount of pain and swelling.  It’s essential to seek medical attention to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Your physician may also make recommendations on the state of your foot’s arch. Sometimes, an X-Ray may be taken to ensure there isn’t a fracture in or around the ankle joint.

It often takes a long time to heal an ankle injury because we tend to rush the healing process. Immediately following an injury, you may be told to rest, apply ice to the damage, elevate the limb higher than your heart, and use compression material to control swelling. You may also be told to use crutches until you can weight bear without pain. Once you can bear weight, it may be time to begin range of motion exercise, and then start a more detailed rehabilitation program including stretching, strength training, and balance exercise. As a result of these restrictions on your busy life, you may find yourself using the injured ankle before it is fully healed.

All too often, we are eager to return to our regular activities and sports and rush an unhealed ankle. Following through on all the recovery and rehabilitation recommendations made by your healthcare team is imperative if you want to return to exercise and sport without the risk of a re-injury. Once you have been cleared for activity, you may want to enhance your ankle’s function using kinesiology tape,  which will ease pain, control swelling, and stabilize the joint. This quality tape can keep up with your most rigorous workouts and provide you with enhanced confidence in your ankle’s performance. Massage balls are a great way to soothe the aching muscles that move the foot and ankle, ease tension, increase blood flow, and stimulate recovery. One simple and beneficial activity with the massage ball is to roll it under your foot, which provides a soothing massage to your overworked feet. You may find that compression socks can provide some relief as they aid in blood flow to the ankle region. During most of the day, and most sports and activities, our bodies are in a vertical position, which means that blood flow back up to the heart takes work. This work can be aided by wearing compression socks. Give your ankles the care and attention they deserve so that you can get back to your active life.

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