How To Manage A Sprained Ankle On The Trail

Posted on: 14 September 2016

A sprained ankle can set you back when you are on an extended hiking trip. If not tended to properly, the sprain can result in a much more involved injury that could send you seeking a ride back home and the premature ending to your trip. Fortunately, knowing how to handle a sprain can help relieve the pain while also preventing a much more severe injury. The following tips can help.

Tip #1: Stop and assess immediately

When you feel the ankle turn and the pain shoot through, quit hiking immediately. Most sprains start off as minor injuries where the ligaments are simply stretched, not damaged. Continuing to hike without treating the sprain can lead to torn ligaments and extreme bruising. If possible, stop hiking for the day and set up camp early. Resting for several hours will usually allow you to resume your hike the next morning. If the ankle begins to swell and bruise within 30 minutes, though, you have a more severe sprain and you need to make plans to get back to a trailhead.

Tip #2: Remember RICE

RICE stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate. This is easier said than done in the back country. On the trail, follow these steps to implement RICE:

  1. Take a break – preferably overnight but at least for several hours. Also, consider taking your time over the next few days and slowing down your trail pace so you can rest more often.

  2. Ice is rarely available on the trail. If you have access to snow, you can put some in a plastic bag and use it to ice your ankle. Otherwise, soak the ankle in a cold stream or wrap a wet t-shirt around it to at least cool it as much as possible. This will keep swelling down.

  3. Wrap the ankle to compress it. This is easiest to do with an elastic bandage, but you can also use a t-shirt torn into strips or even duct tape. Wrap tightly and firmly, but not so tightly that feeling is lost in the toes.

  4. Whenever you stop to rest, elevate the ankle so it is propped higher than your heart. This will further relieve the pain and swelling so your ankle can heal.

Tip #3: Take some weight off

If you brought hiking poles with you, great. You can use these to help take some of your weight off of your ankle as you continue your hike or make your way back to the trailhead. Don't despair if you don't have poles, though. A relatively straight branch that is sturdy and just over waist height can be used as a pole in a pinch. Also, if you are hiking with buddies, distribute some of you pack items into their packs to relieve the weight you are carrying.

You should visit a podiatrist or your doctor as soon as you return. They can assess your ankle to ensure there is no lasting damage and help you with pain management so that it heals completely. For more information, contact Advanced Foot & Ankle Centers of Illinois or a similar location.