Sprained ankles are an everyday occurrence in the United States — in fact, they affect 23,000 people per day. While sprains can range from minor to quite severe, your first steps in all cases are important and should include the RICE protocol.
As orthopaedists and sports medicine specialists, the team here at Western Orthopaedics routinely treats sprained ankles, and we have two goals: To get you back on your feet without pain and to prevent further problems from developing in your ankle.
While we can do our part to meet these goals, you can do yours in the immediate aftermath of a sprained ankle — by deploying the RICE protocol. Here’s how.
The anatomy and signs of a sprained ankle
Before we get into the RICE protocol, let’s briefly review what happens when you sprain an ankle. This condition occurs when you stretch the ligaments in your ankle too far, which can lead to tearing. Minor sprains involve stretching your ligaments beyond their limits, while severe sprains involve complete tears of these connective tissues.
The signs of a sprained ankle depend on the severity of the damage, but often include:
- Tenderness to the touch
In severe cases, you're unable to put any weight on your ankle because of pain and.or instability.
RICE to the rescue
If you twist, roll, or land badly on your ankle and you’re met with pain, we urge you to turn to the RICE method as quickly as possible.
The RICE protocol stands for:
If you suspect a sprain, you should avoid placing any weight on the joint until you can figure out the extent of the problem.
Once you’re seated or lying down, put an ice pack on your ankle to reduce the swelling. Ice packs can be made up of many things — from putting ice in a plastic bag to using a bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas, which mold to the contours of your ankle. We suggest that you place a towel between the ice pack and your ankle to avoid freezing your skin.
You should ice your ankle for 10-20 minutes, several times a day, especially for the first few days after the injury.
In between icing, you should wrap your ankle snugly to help with swelling. If you notice that your toes become tingly or numb, loosen the compression bandage a little bit.
Whether you’re resting, icing, or compressing, try to keep your ankle elevated for the first few days, which also helps with swelling.
What’s next after RICE
If the swelling and pain in your ankle go down after a day or two of the RICE protocol, you may not need any further treatment. Listen to your body, and if your ankle feels OK, you can slowly begin to put weight on it again.
If, however, the pain and swelling don’t subside after using the RICE protocol, it’s important that you come see us. If we find that you have a moderate or severe ankle sprain, we want to get you on a treatment plan that will help with the immediate problem and prevent longer-term complications from developing, such as chronic ankle instability or early onset arthritis.
What this treatment plan may look like depends upon your sprain, but could include anti-inflammatory medications, bracing, injections, immobilization, and, in cases of complete tears, surgical repair.
If you have any questions about the RICE protocol or you suspect you need help with your sprained ankle, contact one of our offices in Denver or Arvada, Colorado.