Sprained Ankle On An Adventure! Now What?

A sprained ankle on an adventure can definitely be a show stopper!  In my nursing practice, and from personal experience,  it’s very evident that there is a lot of pain associated a sprain ankle.  Even more challenging is when you get a sprained ankle while out adventuring.

Ligaments connect bone to bone.  When a person “rolls” their ankle, the ligaments in the ankle can be injured by stretching or tearing them.  The most common ligaments to be injured in this way, are on the outside of the ankles.  Just the wrong step or jump, and down you will go with a sprained ankle. Now what?

At this point, there are a few things to consider, including how severe the injury.  Is there a strong suspicion that the ankle might actually be broken?  As a nurse,  I have seen many patients come through the ER, and have been  surprised when an ankle was actually broke.  I have also been surprised when it was not.  It is just hard to tell sometimes.  If it seems likely that there is a break, and not just sprain, the injured party will need to seek a professional evaluation asap.  Also, if injured party is completely unable to walk with the injury, a professional evaluation is warranted.

The treatment for a basic sprained ankle usually follows this acronym; RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.  Ibuprofen may also be taken to help with the pain and the swelling.

So, what are the details of your particular trip?  Are you back country, adventuring for several days?  If that is your situation, your best option is to sit out a day or so, and apply the RICE treatment. If available, I would also take the ibuprofen, as directed on the bottle.  Stay off your ankle, keep it elevated as much as possible, and keep it wrapped tight enough to compress without cutting off your circulation. (If your toes are blue and tingly, wrap is too tight.) Applying ice will also decrease swelling.  Place ice on injured area for 20-30 minutes every hour, while awake, for a day or two.  If no ice available, find a cold stream, or water source, trying to not put weight on ankle, and place your ankle in it, several times a day.  After a day, or so, and if injured party can bear weight on the ankle, and walk, tape the ankle as seen here and get back to adventuring!

Are you out on a day hike?  You will most likely want to call it a day, but how do you get back to the trail head? First thing you might want to do is make a phone call, as soon as possible, and let someone know what is going on. Maybe they could even come help you off the trail.

Here is hoping you have a trekking pole and some tape with you!

BONE:  Even if you don’t hike with it, one trekking pole attached to your pack with a carabiner can be a fantastic item to have!  I always have at least one trekking pole with me.  I love my Alpine Summit poles!

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No trekking pole?  Find a stick that you can use like a crutch.  Do you have anything that you can wrap your ankle with?  Tape is your best option as you can still usually get your shoe/boot back on.

BONE:  Always have tape in your backpack!  Duct tape or sports tape! 

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Just like above, view here to see how to use tape to give your ankle some support. If there is no tape, you can attempt to place anything flat on each side of the injured ankle, taking care not to injure the skin, and snug it on with a bandana or extra shirt.  Truth is, though, you will probably spend more time fussing with trying to secure a make shift splint, and keeping it on, than it will take you to just find a way to use a crutch and get off the trail.  Yes, it is going to be a painful hike back to the trailhead.  Just get it done!

*For those of you that do not know, I am an RN.  I have practiced in an ICU/Emergency Room setting for the majority of my almost 12 years of being a nurse.  I have completed my Wilderness Upgrade For Medical Professionals in 2016, with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).  In an attempt to make wilderness medical situations/emergencies just a little less scary and/or confusing for those who don’t have medical training, I am going to periodically put out “Monday’s Medical Moment” posts. Posts will be for basic information only.  Care and treatment by a medical professional is not to be replaced by this post. 

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