Sprains are a common, irritating injury among runners. They cause you to lose valuable running time and affect your training schedule for upcoming races in which you are participating. Runners typically suffer from ankle sprains, although knee sprains are also possible. If you’ve been diagnosed with a minor sprain, you’ll be back in your running shoes faster if you rest and follow certain recovery guidelines -- including those outlined by your doctor.
Sprains are classified according to severity as grade 1, grade 2 or grade 3. Grade 1 sprains are also called minor or mild sprains, occurring when the ligaments around the joint are stretched. This stretching causes a small amount of damage to the area. In a minor sprain, you will have pain and tenderness in your ankle or knee. You will also see slight swelling around the joint but there should be no instability present; instability is a sign of a grade 2 or grade 3 sprain. Among the three types of sprains, minor sprains have the shortest recovery time.
Treatment and Rest Period
In the first 72 hours after your sprain, apply ice to your ankle or knee for 20 minutes each hour that you are awake, keeping it elevated above your heart for at least 24 hours. Wrap your affected joint in a compression bandage to provide support and limit swelling. Walk and put weight on your affected leg as soon as it feels comfortable. You will need to take some time off of running to give your injury a chance to heal.
Running After an Ankle Sprain
When you finally return to running, your ankle should feel strong. Before you take your first run, you should be able to comfortably balance while standing on your injured leg, and you should be able to jump sideways over a towel 15 times with no pain. Resume your training gradually by going for a slow jog over even terrain. Over time, you can build up to your pre-injury training schedule. Wear an ankle support for at least six months after your sprain, however.
Running After a Knee Sprain
You can safely return to running when you have full strength and range of motion in your knee, according to the Sports Science Orthopaedic Clinic. You also must be able to jog or sprint in a straight line, in a figure-8 and in a zigzag pattern, in that order, without limping or pain. Make sure you can jump on both legs and just your injured leg with no pain. Your doctor may advise you to wear a knee brace during activity.
Always have your doctor assess your injury to determine the severity. Above all else, follow his guidelines when it comes to treatment and recovery time. Running too soon after a sprain may cause re-injury and lead to other problems. Return to your running program in moderation and discontinue running if you encounter any pain.