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A Rankled Ankle

August 31, 2011

I turned my ankle a bit in class on Wednesday, and given a number of others I know who have done the same in the name of working out and having fun, figured this would be a good chance to post some information about what can rankle an ankle, that lovely, necessary joint.

A Few Basics

• A ligament is fibrous connective tissue that ties bone to bone.

• A tendon is also fibrous connective tissue, but that ties muscle to bone.

• A sprain is when a joint is stretched beyond its normal limit.

• A strain is when a muscle stretches beyond its normal capacity to the point of a tear.

• According to Wikipedia, the ankle joint is bound by four major ligaments: the deltoid ligament and three lateral (side of the foot) ligaments that include the anterior talofibular ligament, the posterior talofibular ligament, and the calcaneofibular ligament.

The Most Common Injury

The most common ankle injury is a lateral ligament sprain like the one I experienced: I jumped and came down on the edge of my foot. My foot rolled under and the three lateral ligaments overstretched.

As I tell anyone who experiences this type of injury, the sudden and initial pain may dissipate if you continue to move around, since the ligaments, tendons and muscles are still very warm, which may leave the impression no injury has occurred. But when the ankle is allowed to rest and the various aspects of the joint cool, painful swelling may occur. For example, I tweaked my ankle around 8:40 a.m., but felt fine, save for an occasional twinge, until I got home and sat down around 2:30 p.m.

Following my own advice, I elevated my foot, iced it at short, regular intervals and today went to the doctor, who took an x-ray, and seeing no evidence of a broken bone, advised continued rest, elevation and ice therapy. He also provided me with some gnarly ankle brace options.

If, after the initial, notable incident, the pain doesn’t dissipate immediately, it might be a sign you’ve torn a muscle, ligament or tendon, or have possibly broken a bone, and should go to the doctor for an x-ray (to look for fractures) or MRI (to look for ligament tears) for evidence of what’s going on, which will then determine a proper course of action.


When we workout junkies are told we’re injured and should rest, whether for a long weekend, like myself, or several weeks or months, depending on whether surgery is necessary, the reaction is often one of panic, simply because we can’t imagine allowing ourselves to fall into disrepair, after which we’ll then have to build ourselves back up. That and we know how much we’d miss those regular adrenaline rushes.

Therefore, my first advice is to follow the doctor’s orders. I plan to, and as a result, I expect to be back to my normal schedule by next week, whereas if I continued to walk around on my injury, I might cause further damage that would keep me out for far longer.

But while you’re talking to your doctor, make sure to be clear about what you can and can’t do. If the doctor tells you not to put any weight on the joint, ask if you can do a non-weightbearing activity like swimming. Ask, too, if it’s all right to perform strength training via alternative positions, such as sitting or lying down.

The bottom line: make sure the workout conforms to the doctor’s advice and does not cause any pain. If you have to grit your teeth, stop what you’re doing and do something else. It’s also a good idea to use whatever bracing equipment has been recommended, whether an ACE bandage or other immobilization tool.

Here’s what I plan to do:

Sample Workout While My Ankle Heals

45 min. total

Intensity level: what I can handle based on the doctor’s orders, using increased reps and more challenging timing modes, i.e., performing knee pushups at a rate of 4 counts down and 4 counts up.

1. Bodyweight exercises that get the heart rate up, can be performed in one place, thus reducing the need to walk around, and that do no involve loading the ankle joint, i.e.:

— pushups on on the knees

— trip-dips off the coffee table

— side-lying oblique crunches (lifting and lowering the upper body and legs at the same time)

— leg extensions (on all fours, extending leg behind and to side)

2. Seated strength moves using free weights and tubing, i.e.:

— delt lifts (anterior, posterior, lateral)

— overhead presses

— bow-and-arrow with tubing

3. Mat abs/back from prone (belly down), supine (belly up) and V-sit positions, i.e.:

— crunches

— full sit-ups

— supermans

— V-sit chest presses using free weights

Happy working out and recuperating!

From → Archive

  1. Joanna permalink

    I’m sorry to hear about your injury. Hope it will heal quickly and completely. I’m glad you used it as an opportunity to educate us/refresh our memory about anatomy 101. Also, thank you for sharing your workout schedule while saving your ankle. Take good care of yourself.
    BTW, got myself a pair of trekking poles – inspired by your last post.

  2. Wonderful about the trekking poles. You’ll have to tell me what you think of them.

  3. Anu permalink

    Great read Martha, especially since my husband has torn a ligament in his ankle several weeks ago and is still experiencing a lot of discomfort and swelling. I plan to show him this article – might help since he most definitely is a workout junkie and is finding it very hard not being able to workout like he usually does.

  4. Hey Anu.

    There are definitely degrees of injury. That my ankle healed so quickly tells me that the injury was minor, whereas your husband’s sounds more substantial. By all means, have him call me if necessary. I’d be happy to tell him about the ankle-stabilization devices the doctor gave me, along with the workouts I did (kettle bell, TRX).

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