Let’s face it:
Volleyball is an ankle-breaker.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled, twisted, sprained, jarred and jerked my ankle over the span of my career:
But I can tell you 9 things that I’ve learned along the way--tips I wish I’d known when I was starting out to help move along the recovery stage and get me back on court.
Can I wear my ankle brace to bed? Yes, you certainly can. The question is: Should you? When you’re off your feet, you don’t really need the support: but if you’re a light sleeper, it’s possible that you’ll give it a knock in the nighttime. Our suggestion is that in severe cases, wearing a light ankle wrap to bed can be a good idea, but for many cases it will be unnecessary.
Questions like this are simple enough, but I really had no idea the first time I sprained my ankle at age 13.
So, I thought I’d put together a list of the 9 most important things to know about ankle sprains and recovery and share it with the Volley-Pedia community.
If you’re just looking for a more detailed answer to the question: 'Can you wear your ankle brace to sleep?' you’ll want to check out Tip #9 before leaving!
Before getting into the tips though…
What is an ankle sprain, technically?
Like all sprains, an ankle sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligament.
Ligaments are just tough bands of tissue which help to keep things in place.
So when you make an awkward movement (like landing on a teammate’s foot coming down from a block!) your ankle can twist or roll outside of its natural range.
This means, in most cases, that the ligaments will be forced to take on too much pressure:
The result? The tissue can be stretched or painfully torn, and you’ll end up on the floor holding onto your ankle for dear life.
Grades of ankle sprains
Not all ankle sprains are the same.
That’s why it can be tough to say how long the recovery time will be just by telling the doc that you’ve rolled your ankle.
In fact, there are three categories or Grades of ankle sprains.
Let’s take a quick look at those, then get on to the recovery tips.
This is the least severe case, and it’s unlikely that you’ve actually torn the ligament.
Don’t worry, it will still hurt.
In fact, even for Grade 1 ankle sprains, you can expect to see some light swelling as your body prepares for the worst.
What happens in a Grade 1 ankle sprain is that the ankle has been overstretched. This can still do damage without actually tearing the ligament, and so it’s still recommended that you stay off it until the swelling goes down.
Amping things up a little, a Grade 2 sprain means that you have a partial tear in one of the ligaments in your ankle.
This is actually one of the most common degrees of ankle sprain in volleyball:
Especially when you roll your ankle outwards.
What to expect with a Grade 2 sprain?
Realistically, this will take a little more time to recover.
Since you have torn part of the ligament, you’ll need to give it some time to heal.
The ankle will swell considerably, and you’ll find it hard to walk without a brace for more than a week.
Typically, for a Grade 2 sprain, you will want to start a regular icing routine to get you back on the court as quickly as possible. It can be difficult to get into the habit of icing, but we recommend getting yourself an ice wrap that lets you do your rehab without having to think about it.
Considering how useful these ice wraps can be, we were pretty surprised by how affordable they are on Amazon. We've left a link here if you want to check out the current price or order one for your recovery stage!
If you do think you have a Grade 2 sprain, you’ll also want to read Tip #7 where we talk about ways to speed up the road to recovery by reducing unwanted swelling in the foot.
These are the bad ones.
The ones that coaches in gyms all across the globe are cringing for whenever one of their players goes down.
Grade 3 sprains are defined as a ‘full tear of the ligament’.
Often in these situations, the player will actually feel or hear a popping sound:
You may not want to be the one to break it to them, but that was the sound of a crucial ligament snapping.
Once your ligament has been fully torn, you really won’t have many options beside strapping it up immediately, seeing your doctor and planning your road to recovery:
A road that may have you strapped up for a good 6-8 weeks.
Symptoms of a Grade 3 sprain:
Severe and immediate swelling.
‘Popping sound’ (although not essential).
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’ve done something that’s serious enough to tear your ligament, it’s possible that this force was enough to do more damage in the area:
For this reason, seeing a doctor really is a good idea--they have the expertise and tools necessary to give you a full diagnosis and make sure nothing too sinister is going on beneath the surface.
Why are ankle sprains so common in volleyball?
Since we’re talking about them here on Volley-Pedia, and not Cricket-Pedia, it’s worth a moment to ask:
Why are volleyball players always rolling their ankles?
Unfortunately, it really is something that’s closer to our game than many others.
You don’t see nearly as many swimmers, sprinters, javelin throwers or ping pong stars crutching around with a strapped ankle:
It’s a volleyball thing.
And there’s a good reason for it. This sport of ours is packed with dynamic, direction-shifting, high-jumping ankle-breaking movements.
Blocking is a disaster zone for the ankles.
Rogue balls rolling under server’s feet.
Awkward defensive plays.
You name it. Volleyball has its sights set on your ankles, and most players have pretty much come to accept that rolling your ankle is inevitable at some point in your career--if you play for long enough.
If you are a volleyball enthusiast, training regularly and interested in learning not only how to avoid rolling your ankle, but how to improve your fundamentals and make an impact on the court, you'll definitely want to sign up for the free Volley-Pedia Resources list. We'll be sending out valuable technical advice from professional volleyball players and coaches on a regular basis, so if you're looking to improve your performance out on court we'd highly recommend taking just 15 seconds to tell us where to send our most valuable volleyball secrets. You can do that here by signing up for the mailing list.
But now, I think it’s about time to deliver on those 9 Tips.
Let’s dive in.
9 Things to Know About Ankle Braces and Ankle Sprain Recovery
*It’s worth saying here that, while many of the following tips will come across as advice and guidance: it’s not medical advice. For that, you’ll need to speak with a medical professional. The tips given are based on my own experience as a professional athlete, and they have all worked for me in my time:
I understand that this may not work the same for everyone, but I share it with the hope that someone might benefit from this knowledge I wish I’d had sooner.
#1: Wearing ankle braces every day is a trade-off.
There really isn’t a better way to put it than this.
While most people will have a personal preference--some coaches will insist that his or her players wear ankle braces, others will recommend that you don’t wear them--the truth is that it’s not one or the other.
Wearing ankle braces during each practice session really will help to protect you if something goes wrong in the session.
But, wearing them each day also does reduce your ankle’s range of motion, flexibility and strength.
Many players insist that wearing ankle braces will make your ankles weak over time:
I wouldn’t really put it that way (I tend to think of it more in terms of flexibility and range of movement), but the outcome is the same.
Then again, if you’re not wearing anything on your ankles when disaster strikes, there’s no denying that the end result can be much worse than someone with the added protection.
It’s a trade-off, so make your pick:
But just know that neither option is perfect.
#2: Leave it alone [in the first few hours]
This is an actionable tip for you: something that you can implement the next time you or a teammate goes down holding onto their ankle.
Don’t try testing it out too early.
After a severe trauma to the ligament, your body won’t really be giving reliable signals:
And this can go both ways.
I’ve seen cases where someone goes down thinking they would be fine by the weekend, only to find out later that the ligament was completely gone.
I’ve also come down on a teammate and thought that I’d be out for weeks on end--the next day I was walking and by the weekend I was ready to go.
The point here is that those first moments of injury can be misleading, and the last thing you want to do is make it worse.
At the same time, the first thing you want to do is test it out.
My strong advice would be to resist the urge, and just let it settle for a couple of hours.
There will be plenty of time to find out how it’s coming along, but pushing it without feeling is probably a bad idea and you’ll likely end up doing more harm than good.
#3: Sprained ankle rehab
Depending on the severity of your sprained ankle, this will come at different times.
For most cases, you won’t want to do anything at all (in terms of rehabilitation) in the first couple of days.
Once the swelling has had a chance to settle and you have an idea of the Grade of ankle sprain, you’ll be able to start coming up with a decent sprained ankle rehab program.
Don’t worry, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
As a preview, we’d recommend performing weightless movements with the ankle as you become more comfortable moving it again.
Things like tracing out your name through the air might sound silly, but it’s a fantastic way to focus your mind and body on the task at hand--all the while strengthening the ligament and speeding up your recovery time.
Even better, if you can get your hands on a simple resistance band, there are hundreds of variations you can do that will speed up your recovery and strengthening process.
Your rehab stage is huge because it will make you more resistant to future injuries: there's nothing worse than getting back on court from injury, only to roll the same ankle because it doesn't have its strength back.
#4: Wear it to death
Other questions that I see quite often on this subject are:
Can you wear your ankle brace all day? Or ‘Can your wear an ankle brace while running?’
My answer is yes to both: if you’re up and about all day, you should wear your ankle brace for as much of that time as possible.
The concern is real, though: if you’re worried that wearing it all day might not be great for circulation (or if it’s especially uncomfortable) then it’s fair to wonder how long you can wear an ankle brace for in one day.
But the truth is, the brace is there to help support your ankle from moving in ways that will cause more damage--wearing it all day will stop more damage than it will cause.
Running in an ankle brace is also a good idea, even in the weeks or months after the injury. While you may have made a terrific recovery, you ankle is likely still weaker than it was and wearing the brace will help to keep things supported.
#5: Wear your 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 support brace inside your shoe.
Many people will jump straight from the brace and crutches to nothing at all:
You want to progress up to full strength, and giving your ankle zero support in those early days of recovery can open you up to a whole new recovery path if you take a bad knock (or an awkward step).
How to wear an ankle brace inside your shoe:
Wearing the brace inside your shoe may sound obvious, but it's a surprisingly common question. You definitely want to be wearing it inside your shoe, that way it will give the most support and hold the tightest fit.
The first thing you can do is buy a sport’s specific ankle brace--these tend to be thinner and more shoe-friendly than other models.
Then, for casual use, pick a soft and comfortable shoe with some give. These may not be your favorites, but they’ll get the job done: and if that means getting back out onto the court sooner, then it’ll be worth it.
It’s an oldie but a goodie. The RICE recovery method is a great guide for taking care of an ankle sprain--especially in those early stages.
Rest: In the first days, keep weight off the ankle for as long as possible.
Ice: Apply ice as soon as possible after injury, but don’t hold it on for anything longer than 20 minutes at a time. You’ll also want to apply ice on and off for the first 48 hours to get the best outcome for your efforts. You can apply ice with just a plastic bag, or a tea towel so that it doesn't come into direct contact with the skin. This can be a bit awkward--and it probably means holding the ice in place for 20 minutes at a time.
If you're in the recovery phase, you may want to invest in a refillable ice wrap. I was surprised by how high-tech these wraps can get these days (at an affordable price).
For a detailed post on how to ice, check out this awesome post by VeryWellHealth.
Compression: This can be an elastic, soft wrap, some strapping, or an ankle brace. I would recommend using an ankle brace, mostly for comfort and not having to deal with ripping the tape off every few days (a painful experience with swelling around the ankle!)
Elevation: Keep the ankle above the height of your heart when possible.
These are the basics for sprained ankle recovery, and they work a real treat.
Obviously, keeping your ankle elevated above heart height isn’t always possible: but when you do lie down, just stick a few pillows beneath your foot and keep that ankle high.
If you are interested in a softer compression, we would recommend wearing one rather than a proper ankle brace to bed. Heavy-duty ankle braces can be uncomfortable to sleep in, and they aren't great for circulation.
The best thing you can do for some light support during the night is to wear a tight-fitting compression sleeve. This is our top suggestion for a firm support that's actually comfortable enough to sleep in. Go check it out!
#7: Move the swelling around
This is one that I personally swear by.
You’ll need to be a little careful with it in the early stages, but once you start getting a feel for it--you can really cut down your recovery time.
When you sprain your ankle, the body’s response is to swell the area with blood:
That’s great. It helps the damaged tissue to recover, and lets you continue doing dangerous things that might hurt it again.
But sometimes you can help your body out by moving some of the stagnant swelling around with your hand and finger.
Especially if you notice that the swelling has been sticking around for 3-5 days, you might see some benefit from kneading the swollen area with your knuckle or finger gently:
Just enough to help get things moving, without causing yourself too much pain or discomfort.
Again, I’m not a doctor: the advice I give is base on my own career, the advice I’ve received from professional physiotherapists in the sports environment, and the many players and coaches who rely on these methods to help players get back out on court.
#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 prescribed meds, I should probably take them.
But arnica was one natural treatment I was pleasantly surprised with, and I’ve used it ever since.
#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: