A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries in the world. You step down wrong and–pop!–there go the ligaments in your ankle. But even though it’s common, an ankle sprain is a threat to your survival.
Traditionally, medical professionals recommend RICE to treat a sprain. That’s Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. You should rest the ankle as much as possible, apply cold packs, wrap it in a compression bandage, and lie down with your foot elevated above your heart as much as possible.
How much of that would you be able to do in a survival situation?
Step 1: Assess the Damage
If you think you or someone in your care has a sprained ankle, the first thing to do is assess the damage. Sit down, remove the shoe, and look at the injury. You may notice swelling right away, typically on the outside, knobbly part of your ankle.
There are 3 levels of sprain, depending on the severity. In Grade 1, the ligaments (think of them like rubber bands holding the ankle joint together) have been overstretched. In Grade 2, the ligaments have been partially torn. In a Grade 3 sprain, your ligaments have been torn. If you heard a popping or snapping sound when you twisted your ankle, then chances are high that it’s a Grade 3 sprain.
If you think there might be a fracture, it’s essential to immobilize the joint as quickly as possible. Wrap it up with a compression bandage and a homemade splint–something as simple as two flat, thin pieces of wood.
Step 2: Wrap, Ice, and Elevate–If Possible
If you have access to a fully stocked first aid kit, then break out those cold packs and ACE bandages. Your ankle will thank you for compression, icing, and elevation. Those 3 actions will help reduce swelling, which in turn will reduce pain.
If you don’t have an ice pack, soak your foot in the coldest water you can get. Take over-the-counter pain meds, too.
What If You’re Far From Safety?
However, if you sprain an ankle while out walking or hiking, then RICE isn’t an option right away. Always hike out with a kit containing a compression bandage, just in case. If the swelling is only mild, tightly lace your boot to support your ankle.
But if the swelling is severe, don’t try to put your shoe back on. Wrap it and then make your way to the nearest place you can rest. Improvise a walking stick, if you don’t have one already, from a fallen branch, and take things slowly. You will be in danger of making the injury worse–or even hurting your other ankle.
Step 3: Rest and Home Remedies
Most sprains will get better on their own–as long as you don’t do something stupid like trying to maintain your normal routine. The only way those damaged ligaments will heal is with time and rest.
After a few days, you can try soaking your foot in warm water with a scoop of Epsom salts. Another home remedy is to apply a poultice of turmeric, garlic, and olive oil–it won’t smell too pretty, but if it works, why not? You can also make homemade muscle rub with coconut oil and essential oils like camphor, eucalyptus, peppermint, and cinnamon.
Ultimately, it will take anywhere from a week to a month or more for your ankle to be back to normal.