How to Manage a Swollen Ankle

swollen ankle

Swelling doesn’t necessarily mean that the body is injured, but whether it’s a result of an injury or not, a swollen ankle should be taken seriously. If there’s something serious going on, a doctor can help create an action plan to help you get back on the right track. However, if there isn’t anything serious going on, you still need to be able to manage the congestion. Swelling can shut off the body’s proprioception- meaning you can’t understand as well how your body is moving. When an ankle is swollen, the brain doesn’t have a good idea of what is happening within the ankle and that creates a lot more opportunity for other instability, trauma, or missteps.

Kelly Starrett, DPT and founder of The Ready State, shares some simple rules to help determine if you should see a doctor, and a few techniques to reduce congestion if you have an otherwise healthy ankle.

Choose a Plan of Action

The first rule of action for a swollen ankle is to determine whether it’s a serious problem or if it’s something that you can manage on your own. The Ottawa Rules outline three simple questions to ask yourself that can give a good indication on what your plan of action should be. The caveat here is if you think you injured your ankle, by all means go ahead and get it checked out. These rules are for those questioning the degree of their ankle issue.

1. Can you weight bear?

If you can’t bear weight on the ankle, it’s a sign that you probably need an x-ray.

2. Can you take 4 steps?

swollen ankle

If you can’t take 4 steps without pain, it’s a pretty good indication that something more serious is going on. At this point, it’s a good idea to get the ankle checked out by a doctor and possibly get an x-ray if advised.

3. Is it point tender?

  • Outside or Inside of Ankle Bone
  • Outside of Foot- Right below the pinky toe

If you find any of these areas to be point tender, where you push on it and it hurts, it’s probably best to go see a doctor. For those with non-serious swelling, it’s important to manage the congestion before it gets worse.

3 Ways to Reduce Ankle Swelling

For those who’s swollen ankle is a non-medical issue, there are a few active approach techniques Kelly Starrett recommends for reducing congestion.

1. Elevation/Gravity

swollen ankle

The problem with a congested ankle is that it’s at the bottom of a gravity well. Your body is constantly fighting gravity to try to pump out the swelling. Get your foot up and use gravity to your advantage.

2. Mechanical Compression

Using VooDoo floss, you can compress the swollen area upwards of 10-12 times per day. Wrap at 50% tension and 50% overlap in the band from your foot up towards your heart.

3. Active Recovery w/ Marc Pro

swollen ankle

Gravity and compression can only be done when you have an opportunity to stop, lay down, and get your feet up. With Marc Pro, you can decongest the area while traveling, at work, or pretty much anytime you’re not moving around. Kelly recommends placing the pads on the calf or quadriceps, as long as the pumping doesn’t irritate the swollen area. If the contractions are irritating the swollen area, move the pads farther away. Whether you put the pads above or below the area, it doesn’t matter- you can push or pull the waste through the lymphatic system up to the heart to drain. Even if you pump your quadriceps, it will still improve the health in the tissues of the leg.

This triad of gravity, mechanical compression, and active recovery is a powerful combination for decongesting swollen ankles that can safely be managed on your own.

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