Return to Running After an Injury

Return to Running After an Injury


Twisting your ankle while running can occur in the blink of an eye, and a lot of runners don’t even notice the injury or just ignore the problem. If left untreated, a sprained ankle can become an ongoing problem, depending on the severity of the injury and the quality of the rehab. It’s best to treat ankle pain correctly to prevent future injuries and sprains from happening.

What is a sprained ankle? 

Since sprained ankles are a common injury for runners, it’s important to know what a sprain feels like and determine how to treat the injury.

Often runners will return to running after an ankle sprain before the ankle has had time to fully heal. Since the body reacts to protect the damaged tissues, your normal stance may be altered without you even noticing – affecting your hips, knees, and ankles. This can cause you to develop imbalances that can harm your running technique and make you more susceptible to future ankle sprains.(1)

Caution

Untreated ankle injuries can also lead to other problems like Peroneal Tendonitis and Posterior Tibial Tendonitis which may result in long-term recovery and surgery in more severe cases. So it’s important to care for the initial injury and give yourself proper recovery time.

Ankle sprain prevention: How you can prevent a sprained ankle

While there is no guarantee that you can avoid a sprained ankle, there are a few things that you can do to improve ankle stability. (2)  

  • Incorporate 15-30 minute warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after your run. These exercises are recommended for preventing all types of sport-related injuries, including a twisted ankle.(3) 
  • Perform exercises designed to promote flexibility, strength, and balance that are great for preventing sprained ankles and other injuries – including stretching, balancing, power, and agility techniques.(4) Try this 8-week yoga program on the adidas Training app to build strength and flexibility! 
  • Consult a specialist if you have a history of ankle injuries or issues to have expert advice to improve ankle stability. 

What to do after an ankle sprain

Ankle sprains can vary in degree – the injury can range from a twisted ankle to a ligament tear. You should always let a professional assess your injury, especially if:

  • you are in a lot of pain
  • you can’t walk
  • your ankle is still swollen after 48 hours

The first line of treatment will involve waiting for the swelling and the pain to decrease.

As soon as the foot is pain free and not very swollen anymore, you should add some light exercises to speed up recovery. Don’t go running yet! Try the exercises suggested below, take a walk, go swimming, cycling…any activity that doesn’t cause pain while moving!

Exercises to restore mobility, balance, strength, and flexibility

The following exercises are focused on three key aspects of recovery after an ankle sprain and include:

  • mobility exercises to release any tension
  • stability exercises that require controlled strength
  • stretching exercises that restore flexibility in the affected and surrounding area

Release tension, restore mobility

Exercise 1: Knee circles

How to do the exercise:

Stand with your feet together so they are touching. Bend your knees slightly while keeping your chest lifted and place your hands on top of your kneecaps. Imagine your kneecaps drawing a circle as you move your lower body in a clockwise motion 10 times, and then counterclockwise 10 times. This rotation of the knee and ankle joints is a great warm-up before exercise as well.

Exercise 2: Pronation / Supination

How to do the exercise:

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Now simultaneously turn both of your feet outward (supination). And then inward (pronation). One repetition includes both pronation and supination. Repeat 10 times.

Increase flexibility

Exercise 1: Achilles tendon & calf stretch

How to do the exercise:

Stand on the edge of a step with your heels not touching the ground. Lower the heel of the injured foot towards the ground to stretch your calf, keeping your knee straight. Bend the knee to stretch the muscles closer to your ankle. Do both or choose the one that feels better for you. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times.

Exercise 2: Heel sit

How to do the exercise:

Kneel down and sit back on your heels with your feet extended. You should feel the stretch along your ankles and shins. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3 rounds. If you want to increase the stretch, pull your knees up towards your body.

Restore balance & strength

Exercise: Single Leg Stand (versions)

How to do the exercise:

Stand on one leg and try to keep your balance. Once you can hold the position for 30 seconds, try a more challenging variation: move your head sideways or close your eyes. You can also try lowering your hand to touch the ground in front of you, behind you, or to either side of you, while standing balanced on one leg.

Exercise 2: Single Leg Squat

Man doing Single Leg Squats

How to do the exercise:

Stand up straight. Lift the uninjured foot up from the ground in front of you, keeping the knee extended. Push your hips back and bend the knee of the standing leg to do a squat. Go only as low as you feel comfortable without losing your balance. Push the heel of the standing leg to the ground to rise back up to standing position. Do 5-12 reps, and repeat 2-3 times.

Consider this:

If time allows, single leg exercises should be done on both sides, not only on the affected side in order to work towards symmetric strength. Make sure to always start with the injured side first.

Sprained Ankle: When can you start running again?

Once you are successfully moving the foot and walking without any pain, you can do a light test run. If you still have pain while running or are not completely ready to start, you can focus on the above-mentioned rehab exercises to restore your tissue capacity before taking up running again. If everything goes well, you can slowly increase the distance per day.

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