Ankles are a weak spot for us and can easily be sprained with even a slight slip of a rock or from stepping down a curb. I enjoy hiking, and more than once I have had to improvise an ankle brace for a friend, or even myself, while out in the woods.
Some things you need to keep in mind to avoid spraining an ankle is to use proper foot ware while hiking. Use high tops or boots, and lace the whole shoe to protect your ankles. Using walking sticks or trekking poles will also help to prevent slips. Even when using common sense on a walk, it can end up badly from one foot slipping.
Knowing how to immobilize an ankle should be basic for even the average person. Even walking down, a flight of steps or stepping on a dog toy may cause ankle injuries. Following these steps will allow you to perform emergency first aid to yourself, a friend, or even a loved one. Unfortunately, twisting an ankle is fairly easy to do and some people can become repeat offenders. These few should really learn this survival skill, but it’s a good skill for anyone to know.
The first step in any injury is to assess what has happened.
Not every ankle injury will need intervention, so give the person 2-5 minutes to compose themselves and see if they do need assistance. After the initial wait, assess the ankle and decide how to proceed. These are some of the steps to follow.
- Do not remove the shoe – If the shoe is removed the foot may swell and you won’t get the shoe back on.
- Toe wiggle – Have the person wiggle their toes. Can they wiggle them? If not then it’s time to immobilize.
- Ankle moment – Can they move their foot up and down and then in a circle? If not then it’s time to immobilize.
- Apply weight on foot – If they can move the toes and ankle try and help them put some weight on the foot. If they cannot bear weight, bracing the ankle is a good option.
If the person still is in pain and can’t bear weigh the right choice is to brace the ankle. Bracing the ankle will keep it from further injury. It will also help ease the pain of moving the injury and can help keep swelling down. In an extreme situation, it may also help them bear enough weight on the bad foot to walk out of the situation.
To properly splint an ankle
- Totally immobilize – The ankle should not be able to twist or flex. More movement will cause pain and possibly further injure the ankle.
- Make it fairly comfortable – Wrap the foot in a way that rubbing won’t cause secondary issues like damaged skin or stopped circulation.
- Assess the immobilization – After immobilizing, assess that the foot is stable and safe.
Totally and completely immobilizing the foot is key. This can be done in many ways depending on where you are and what sort of supplies you have. First off, you will need some sort of soft material to create a barrier between the foot and harder bracing material. The soft layer should just be thick enough to work as a barrier and not thick enough to hinder the immobilization. The material can be clothing, foam, bubble wrap, or the like.
Next step is to use the immobilizing material. If you are in the woods you can use sticks, but if you have access to other types of material use them. Some ideas are hard plastic, metal (a camp pan beat into shape with a rock), cardboard, or even parts harvested from a car. If you are skiing, you could even use ski poles, archers can use arrow shafts, tent pole sticks, just use your imagination.
Now you will need something to lace your brace. Don’t use your shoe strings because the last thing you need is to twist your ankle. Don’t use the injured person’s laces either, we don’t want their ankle to swell in the shoe. Use strips of material from a tent, tarp, clothing, rope, twine, or even vine to lace it all together.
The first step in putting the brace together is to keep the person calm and informed. Now that you have collected everything you need insulate the foot with the soft material. If possible, you want to create an even tube out of the leg. You won’t want air pockets between the soft material and the hard brace. You may need to latch the softer material to keep it in place while mounting the harder shell.
Now apply the harder shell around the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Some pieces should follow the shape of the shoe. You may need to break to bend pieces to get the desired shape. Remember the goal is to keep the foot from moving at all.
After the brace is applied, assess the brace to see if it’s causing more pain or still able to move. If the person complains that the foot hurts more or is losing circulation adjust till it feels better.
Another option you can take is to pre-purchase an ankle brace kit. Some of these braces are able to collapse and toss into an emergency pack or backpack. Hopefully, you will never have to use it, but if you do have to use it you will be glad you had it.
It’s time to get to a doctor at this point. If you have a short walk just have them lean on you while walking to safety. In a situation where you have over a mile, making a walking stick is the best option. Get a sturdy lightweight pole or branch that is strong enough to bear the weight of the person. This should make it easier to get out of the situation.
Having an injury is bad on its own but getting injured and not knowing what to do is much worse. Practice this skill on your own or with people you may be in that sort of situation with. Not only will the practice make you smarter but it will bring you and your friends closer.