I can't tell you how many times I've rolled, twisted, sprained, jarred, and yanked my ankles in my career:
But I can tell you 9 things I've learned along the way - tips I wish I knew when I started helping me move through the recovery phase and getting me back on the court.
Can I wear an ankle brace while sleeping? Yes, of course you can. The question is: should you? You don't really need support when you're standing up: but if you're a light sleeper, you might knock it on at night. Our advice is that in severe cases it may be a good idea to wear a lightweight ankle wrap to sleep, but in many cases this will be unnecessary.
Technically, what is an ankle sprain?
Like all sprains, an ankle sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are just tough bands of tissue that help hold objects in place.
So when you make an awkward move (like landing on a teammate's foot!) your ankle may twist or roll out of its natural range.
This means that, in most cases, the ligaments will be forced to take too much stress:
result? Tissue can be stretched or painfully torn, and you end up grabbing your ankle on the floor and spending your precious life.
grades of ankle sprains
Not all ankle sprains are the same.
That's why it's hard to tell how long the recovery will be just by telling the doctor that you've sprained your ankle.
In fact, ankle sprains fall into three categories or grades.
Let's take a quick look at these and get to know the recovery tips.
This is the least serious case, and you're unlikely to actually tear a ligament.
Don't worry, it will still hurt.
In fact, even with a grade 1 ankle sprain, you may see some mild swelling as your body prepares for the worst.
A first-degree ankle sprain occurs when the ankle is overstretched. This can still cause damage without tearing the ligament, so it's still recommended that you don't use it until the swelling has subsided.
Stepping it up a little, a grade 2 sprain means you partially tear one of the ligaments in your ankle.
This is actually one of the most common degrees of ankle sprains in volleyball:
Especially when you roll your ankle out.
What happens with a grade 2 sprain?
Actually, it will take more time to recover.
Since you tore part of the ligament, you will need to give it some time to heal.
The ankle will swell significantly and you will find it difficult to walk without a brace for over a week.
Usually, with a grade 2 sprain, you'll need to start your regular ice pack routine to get you back on the court as quickly as possible. Getting into the habit of freezing can be difficult, but we recommend getting yourself an ice pack so you can recover without thinking about it.
Considering how useful these ice packs are, we're pretty surprised how much they cost on Amazon. If you'd like to see current prices or order one for your recovery phase, we've left a link here!
If you do think you have a grade 2 sprain, you also need to read Tip #7, where we discuss ways to speed up the road to recovery by reducing unnecessary swelling in the foot.
These are bad.
Every time one of their players goes down, coaches in gyms across the globe cringe.
Grade 3 sprains are defined as "complete torn ligaments".
Often in these situations, the player will actually feel or hear a popping sound:
You probably don't want to be the one breaking it at them, but that's the sound of critical ligament ruptures.
Once your ligament is completely torn, you really have no choice but to tie it up immediately, see a doctor, and plan your path to recovery:
A road that could get you tied up in 6 to 8 weeks.
Symptoms of a grade 3 sprain:
Severe and immediate swelling.
- "Crackling" (although not required).
- Loss of stability and balance.
- Sharp and spreading pain.
The problem with grade 3 sprains is that they can be accompanied by more serious fractures and other complications.
If you do something severe enough to tear a ligament, this force may be enough to cause more damage in the area:
For this reason, it's really a good idea to see a doctor - they have the necessary expertise and tools to give you a full diagnosis and make sure nothing too sinister is happening beneath the surface.
Since we're talking about them on Volley-Pedia rather than Cricket-Pedia, it's worth taking a moment to ask:
Why do volleyball players always roll their ankles?
Unfortunately, it does come closer to our game than many others.
You hardly see that many swimmers, sprinters, javelin throwers or table tennis players walking around with strapped ankles:
It's a volleyball thing.
And for good reason. Our sport is full of dynamic, direction-changing, high-jump ankle fractures.
Blockages are a disaster area for ankles. The rogue ball rolls under the server's feet.
Embarrassing defensive tactics.
you name it. The goal of volleyball is your ankle, and most players have come to accept that at some point in your career, rolling your ankle is inevitable—if you play long enough.
9 things to know about ankle braces and ankle sprain recovery
It is worth saying here that while many of the following tips will appear as advice and guidance: This is not medical advice. For this, you need to talk to a medical professional. The tips given are based on my own experience as a professional athlete, and they all worked for me in my day:
I know this may be different for everyone, but I hope someone can benefit from the knowledge I wish I had earlier.
1. Wearing an ankle brace every day is a trade-off
There really is no better way to express it than this.
While most people will have a personal preference -- some coaches will insist his or her players wear ankle braces, while others will advise you not to wear them -- the truth is, it's not one or the other.
Wearing an ankle brace during each practice really helps protect you if something goes wrong during the practice.
However, wearing them every day can also reduce ankle range of motion, flexibility, and strength.
Many players insist that wearing an ankle brace can weaken your ankle over time:
I wouldn't say that (I tend to think more about flexibility and range of motion), but the results are the same.
Then again, if disaster strikes with nothing on your ankle, there's no denying the end result could be worse than someone with extra protection.
This is a trade-off, so make your choice:
But just know that neither option is perfect.
2. Leave it alone [for the first few hours]
Here's an actionable tip for you: You can do it by grabbing your ankle or your teammate the next time you fall.
Don't try to test it too soon.
After severe trauma to a ligament, your body doesn't really send reliable signals: it can go both ways.
I've seen people think they'll be fine over the weekend, only to find out later that the ligament is completely gone.
I also got a teammate and figured I'd be away for a couple of weeks - I was walking the next day, and by the end of the week I'd be ready.
The point here is that the first moments of an injury can be misleading, and the last thing you want to do is make it worse.
Meanwhile, the first thing you want to do is test it.
My strong recommendation is to resist the urge and let it settle for a few hours.
There will be plenty of time to see how it goes, but pushing it without feeling is probably a bad idea, and you could end up doing more harm than good.
3. Sprained Ankle Rehabilitation
This will come at different times depending on the severity of the ankle sprain.
In most cases, you don't want to do anything at all (in terms of recovery) for the first few days.
Once the swelling has had a chance to subside and you have an idea of the level of your ankle sprain, you can begin to develop a decent sprained ankle rehabilitation program.
Don't worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds.As a preview, we recommend that you use the ankle for weightless exercises, as it will be more comfortable to move it again.
Things like tracking your name through the air might sound silly, but it's a fantastic way to keep your mind and body focused on the task at hand -- while strengthening ligaments and speeding up your recovery time.
Even better, if you can master a simple resistance band, you can do hundreds of variations that will speed up your recovery and strengthening process. Your rehab phase is huge because it makes you more resistant to future injuries: There's nothing worse than getting back on the court from an injury, only to roll the same ankle because it didn't regain strength.
4. Wear to death
Other questions I often see on this topic are:
Can you wear ankle braces all day? Or "Can you wear ankle braces while running?"
My answer to both is yes: If you get up all day, you should wear your ankle brace as much as possible.
The concern is real, though: If you're concerned that wearing it all day might be bad for your circulation (or if it's particularly uncomfortable), you might wonder how long you can wear your ankle brace in a day.
But the truth is, what the brace does is help support your ankle from moving in a way that would cause more damage—wearing it all day will prevent more damage than it can.
Running with an ankle brace is a good idea even in the weeks or months after your injury. While you may have recovered well, your ankle may still be weaker than before, and wearing a brace will help keep it supported.
5. Put the ankle brace inside the shoe
If you're going from crutches to walking and putting pressure on your foot again, it's a good idea to wear an ankle brace inside your shoe.
Many will jump straight from braces and crutches to nothing:
You want to be at full strength, and giving your ankle zero support early in your recovery can open up a whole new recovery path if you take a bad knock (or an embarrassing step).
How to wear ankle braces inside shoes:
Wearing a brace inside your shoe might sound obvious, but it's a surprisingly common problem. You definitely want to wear it in your shoes so it will provide the most support and maintain the tightest fit.
The first thing you can do is buy sports-specific ankle braces—these tend to be thinner and fit better in shoes than other models.
Then, for casual use, choose a pair of shoes that are soft and comfortable with a little help. These may not be your favorites, but they'll get the job done: if it means getting back on the court sooner, it'll be worth it.
It's an old song, but a good one. The RICE Recovery Method is a great guide for treating ankle sprains—especially in those early stages.
Rest: During the first few days, keep the weight on the ankle for as long as possible.
Ice: Apply ice as soon as possible after the injury, but no longer than 20 minutes at a time. You'll also want to turn the ice on and off within the first 48 hours for best results. You can just use a plastic bag or tea towel to spread the ice so it doesn't come into direct contact with your skin. This can be a little awkward - it can mean holding the ice cubes in place for 20 minutes at a time.
If you are recovering, you may want to buy refillable ice packs. These days, I'm amazed at how high-tech these wraps are (at an affordable price).
Compression: This can be a stretchy, soft wrap, some straps, or an ankle brace. I recommend an ankle brace, mostly for comfort without having to remove the tape every few days (painful experience with swollen ankles!)
E Height: Keep your ankles as high as your heart as much as possible.
These are the basics of sprained ankle recovery and they are a real treat.
Obviously, keeping your ankles higher than your heart doesn't always work: but when you lie down, just put a few pillows under your feet and keep your ankles high.
If you're interested in softer compression, we recommend wearing one instead of a proper ankle brace while you sleep. Heavy-duty ankle braces can be uncomfortable, and they're not good for circulation.
The best way to provide light support at night is to wear a tight compression sleeve. Here's our top recommendation for sturdy support, and it's actually enough to get you to sleep comfortably. Go check it out!
7. Move swelling
This is what I swear by myself.
You need to be a little careful in the early stages, but once you start feeling it - you can really cut down on your recovery time.
When you sprain your ankle, your body responds by engorging the area:
That's great. It helps damaged tissue recover and allows you to continue doing dangerous things that could harm it again.
But sometimes you can help your body by moving some of the stagnant swelling with your hands and fingers.
Especially if you have noticed swelling that has persisted for 3-5 days, you may find some benefit in gently kneading the swollen area with your knuckles or fingers:
Just enough to help move things around without causing yourself too much pain or discomfort. Again, I'm not a doctor: the advice I give is based on my own career, advice I've received from professional physical therapists in sports settings, and court appearances by the many players and coaches who rely on these methods to help players recover.
8. Arnica Lotion
If you do need to see a doctor, they will likely prescribe you some anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or Advil.
Those are great, and you should take them if they’re prescribed.
But one thing I’ve stumbled upon in my time is a little known herbal lotion:
Made from arnica.
In other circumstances, arnica is considered a toxic herb.
But when applied to the skin in a diluted lotion, it can work wonders for relieving pain and swelling. I was never big on just trying homeopathic treatments on ankle sprains for fun. I figured that if the doctor.
9. Sleep in your brace if need be!
This question was inspiration for this post–is it okay to sleep with an ankle brace on?–so it deserves an answer in full in our 9 Tips.
If you take a moment to think about what ankle braces are actually for, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether or not you should wear it to bed.
The goal is to support and protect your ankle:
Sometimes this protection is as much from yourself as it is from others. So if you’re a sound sleeper who doesn’t budge an inch, then wearing your ankle brace to sleep probably isn’t necessary.
In fact, in most circumstances it isn’t the end of the world if you knock your foot in the middle of the night.
But if you are concerned, or you just don’t want to take the risk–by all means wear your ankle support brace to bed.
That being said, I personally was a fan of letting the ankle 'breathe' in the night. There may not have been anything to it other than the sweet release of taking off the brace after a long day on my feet, but I always felt that it helped to let my body get to work on recovery during the night hours.