An ankle sprain is one of the most common injuries while on vacation.
There are stairs, curbs, and carpets everywhere, and a misstep on these can spell disaster.
How do you take care of your sprained ankle when you are several thousand miles from home? We discuss tips and tricks to make it bearable until you can receive treatment.
What Is an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain happens when the joint is twisted unnaturally. The most common causes are upturned carpet edges, missteps on a hike, or a fall down the stairs.
The ankle joint is made of three major bones:
- Tibia, also known as shin, the lowermost major bone of the body.
- The fibula, a slender bone besides the tibia.
- The talus, the topmost bone of the foot.
Together they form the ankle, and are held in place by tendons and ligaments.
It is a stable joint that does not degenerate, except at an advanced age. It also bears the whole weight of the body, and any damage is exceptionally troublesome.
A sprain is any injury that does not result in a fracture.
Symptoms of Ankle Sprain
The first sign is tremendous pain.
After a few minutes, the ankle will start to swell. When the ankle is severely hurt, blood comes out of capillaries and enters the soft tissue surrounding the injury. The foot swells up, and the normal range of movement is reduced.
It is your body’s way to prevent you from walking and causing further damage.
Following swelling, the site of injury may become spotted red, and dark.
In case of a severe sprain, it is impossible to tell from a visual inspection if a bone fracture has occurred. When the injury is caused by tugging instead of twisting, not only does the ankle become unstable, but the metatarsals and toe bones might break.
Doctors have a simple acronym for taking care of sprains and mild injuries. It is known as R.I.C.E.
Stop moving. It is the first and best piece of advice.
However, it is easier said than followed. If you happen to be two miles from the nearest human on a deserted hiking trail, the advice can be mighty hard to keep in mind.
A good tip to follow is to not move unless absolutely necessary. If you do not put weight on the injured ankle, the pain should subside to a small degree. The initial flare-up is unavoidable, but after a few hours, the degree of pain lessens.
Put an icepack on the injury. Better still, wrap it around the ankle.
A quick way to make an improvised ice pack is to put crushed ice into a polythene bag and wrap it around the ankle.
Should that prove impossible, lie on the bed, put a towel on the cover, and place the ice pack on the towel. Position yourself so that your injured ankle rests on top of the ice pack.
The leg will become numb with cold. The nerves stop working as the temperature goes down and, along with it, the pain. In other words, the pain is still there, but your brain is blissfully uninformed.
Ice constricts blood vessels, and this prevents further fluid from pooling into the damaged area.
Unless you use ice, the ankle will likely balloon up, and it is difficult to drain the fluid.
There is some confusion about whether to apply an ice pack or heat. In the immediate 48 hours after the injury, use an ice pack. After that, heat helps restore circulation to the ankle.
An elastic bandage is a must-have item in your travel kit. At about six inches wide and up to five feet long, they are made of cotton and weigh about an ounce.
Sometimes called crepe bandages, they are also somewhat stretchable.
You cannot apply ice indefinitely, but compression has to remain in place. Wrap the elastic bandage around the injured area, and then secure the end with a clasp or safety pin.
Take care that it does not get wet by wrapping a plastic bag around it when you shower.
Elastic bandages lend support to the joint and make it stable. They prevent your ankle from twisting unnaturally, and keep it stiff. Without flexion and extension, the pain and injury are easier to control.
When you wrap your ankle, take care that you not only wind it on top of the ankle (fibula), but also the side and bottom. It should be tight, but not so constrictive that blood cannot flow to your toes.
This is a step that is avoided by most patients after the first few hours. Elevating the leg from the knee joint up is the best way to keep the ankle above the level of the heart.
This means bed rest, which few are willing to undertake on vacation. But, elevation for a couple of days can remarkably improve a sprained ankle, given that it is not broken.
Do Medicines Help?
Common painkillers such as ibuprofen work wonders. Take care that you do not consume them on an empty stomach, and have no more than 400 mg daily, in two doses of 200 mg.
Ibuprofen must never be consumed by those who have a kidney problem. If in doubt, plain acetaminophen is enough until you receive care from a professional.
Should I Consult a Doctor?
Yes, absolutely. You need an x-ray to find if anything is broken. Also, a trained nurse can handle a crepe bandage better than most.
Should I Use a Crutch?
A crutch can help with your mobility, and allow you to hobble without too much pain for the next week while the sprain heals.
Do not strain too much for two weeks, or you might end up with a chronic injury.
What Else Can I Do?
The obvious answer is to buy travel medical insurance before you take a trip abroad. A nasty sprain can require you to visit an E.R., and get expert advice from an orthopedist.
Though an x-ray usually suffices, an M.R.I. scan to find torn ligaments is never ruled out.
If the pain is excruciating, you might have to stay a few days at a hospital. As you can imagine, a hospital stay in a foreign country is extremely expensive, and your domestic health insurance is unlikely to provide sufficient coverage. You absolutely need travel medical insurance or travel insurance to protect your finances from large medical bills.
Thousands find the perfect travel medical insurance plan from Insubuy every week. On Insubuy, you can compare plans after filtering them based on your needs. Then, you click, buy, and keep the e-policy documents in your online account.
It might seem obvious, but you should not take an ankle sprain lightly. Visit a medical professional and get expert advice as soon as possible.
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