Knowing how long after a sprained ankle can you run is key to managing your expectations. So when’s that going to be?
Running demands a lot from your body. So, using 4 physical benchmarks rather than a timeline might be better. These include your pain level, movement, strength, and balance.
We’ll discuss them below. Check the following topics to know when you can get back on the road or trail. Tap on any of them to go straight to its section:
4 Signs that you can return to running after an ankle sprain
These signs are applicable to lateral ankle sprains, the most common type of injury. (1) But, the same guidelines apply to other types of sprains as well.
Yet, keep in mind that it’s best if you can attain all these 4 signs before you try running again:
1) Zero ankle pain and swelling
Your ankle joint might feel great, especially while you are sitting or lying down. But you should check if it’ll remain pain-free during various weight-bearing tasks.
Such tasks include walking on uneven surfaces and climbing/descending stairs. This helps mimic the different terrains and elevations that you’ll encounter while you’re running.
Remaining symptom-free through all these tests probably means that your ankle ligaments have healed properly.
Related: Is it ok to walk on an ankle sprain?
2) Equal ankle dorsiflexion on both feet
This range of motion helps you clear the ground whenever you swing your legs. It also allows your shin to move past your ankles with each ground contact.
So, let’s use your uninjured foot as the basis to tell if you have enough dorsiflexion. Use these two methods to check this:
- Place both legs straight in front of you. Put a firm pillow underneath your heels.
- Point both your feet towards your shin, going as far as you can.
- With a friend near the side of your injured foot, ask them to take a picture/video to see if both feet are equal in range.
- With your good leg, start with your toes against the wall.
- Lunge forward, so your knee touches the wall without lifting your heel.
- Move your foot back a few centimeters and try again.
- The test stops once your heel elevates. Once that happens, use a ruler to measure the distance between your big toe and the wall.
- Do the same procedure to your injured leg. Both legs should have the same foot-to-wall distance.
Note: Normally, we -physical therapists- use a device called a “goniometer” for an accurate measure. But for an estimate, a friend can help you out.
3) Strong calf muscles
Your calf muscles produce forces 3 to 8 times your body weight when you run. (2) So after missing time from an ankle injury, it’s important to see if they are still up for the challenge.
One way to check is by doing 25 straight single-legged calf raises. Research shows that it’s a reliable way to test the strength and endurance of your calf muscles. (3)
I know that’s a lot of repetitions. But if you can do so, this means your calf muscles are strong enough to use for running.
4) Stable ankles
Acute ankle sprains tend to mess up the sense of the position of that joint. (4) And this is important, as you need to quickly find your balance on one leg with each stride when you run.
To check how stable your ankle is, try doing the single-leg balance test. You can do it by standing on one leg, barefoot, with your eyes closed.
Being able to do this for 10 seconds without grabbing something to help you or overcompensating with other movements means you are good to go. (5)
3 Tips to safely return to running after an ankle sprain
1) Add home exercises to your daily routine
Exercises are key to helping you to fully recover. This includes strengthening, stretching, and balance drills which you’ll need to run well.
2) Slowly increase your running distance
Try to add a run and walk routine. Run for a few minutes then walk to help catch your breath. That’ll make it easier for your body to get accustomed to the demands of running again.
3) Go to physical therapy
A physical therapist can accelerate the healing process of ankle injuries. We can also help you avoid future ankle sprains with:
- Thermal and manual treatment to reduce your symptoms.
- Movement and running analysis to figure out what caused your injury.
- Individualize therapeutic exercises to help condition your body.
- Treatments and exercise strategies you can do at home.
Learn more: Physical therapy for healing an ankle sprain.
How long should I stay off a sprained ankle?
For a mild ankle sprain, you don’t need to stay off – using it can be beneficial for it to heal well. But for a severe sprain, you should stay off of it anywhere between a few days to a few weeks.
How to return to running after a sprained ankle?
Start by increasing your walking distance or duration. If things go well, try a walk-run routine until you can run longer than you can walk.
When must you stop running with an ankle sprain?
Experiencing severe pain and swelling should make you think twice about running on your injured ankle. At this rate, you should consult a doctor or physical therapist.
Conclusion: How long after an ankle sprain can I run?
It’s challenging to put a specific timeframe on when you can run after a sprained ankle. It’s best to gauge your body’s capacity to run through different physical tests instead.
While you can do such tests at home, I highly advise you to consult with your trusted medical professional. They’ll be able to guide you better so that you can run without worries.
- Melanson SW, Shuman VL. Acute Ankle Sprain. [Updated 2022 May 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459212/
- Dorn, Tim W et al. “Muscular strategy shift in human running: dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance.” The Journal of experimental biology vol. 215,Pt 11 (2012): 1944-56. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.064527
- Hébert-Losier, K et al. “Updated reliability and normative values for the standing heel-rise test in healthy adults.” Physiotherapy vol. 103,4 (2017): 446-452. DOI: 10.1016/j.physio.2017.03.002
- Alghadir, Ahmad H et al. “Effect of Chronic Ankle Sprain on Pain, Range of Motion, Proprioception, and Balance among Athletes.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,15 5318. 23 Jul. 2020, DOI: 10.3390/ijerph17155318
- Trojian, T H, and D B McKeag. “Single leg balance test to identify risk of ankle sprains.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 40,7 (2006): 610-3; discussion 613. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2005.024356