By Christopher Bernett, PA-C
Ohio is a great place for outdoor pursuits, from hunting to camping to backpacking. But the terrain can be rugged, with rocky – and sometimes slippery – trails.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. What if, despite your best intentions, you step off the trail or into a hole and fold your ankle over like a slice of New York pizza? Ankle strains and sprains are some of the most common back country injuries, and here are a few tips for dealing with one on the trail:
1. Take your boot off. If your ankle swells with your boot on, you may have trouble getting it off. Plus, you can’t examine the ankle properly with a shoe on your foot.
2. Check to make sure it’s not broken. A broken ankle will usually appear disfigured or discolored, and bones may even push through the skin. If you can’t bear weight, or if you heard a loud pop when you twisted your ankle, it’s either broken or you have severed ligaments.
In this instance, splint the ankle, either with a commercial splint carried in your pack, or with a rolled sleeping pad, pack stays or anything else that will keep the ankle immobile. Make sure to place some cushioning between the splint and the injury. Then, send for help. How to improvise a splint.
3. If the pain is manageable, it’s probably a bad sprain. Apply cold to the injury – a plastic bag filled with snow, a water bladder or cold water from a stream – as soon as possible. Don’t apply cold to an injury for more than 30 minutes at a time.
4. After a half hour, wrap an elastic bandage or tape snugly around the foot in a figure eight, going around your ankle and under your arch. If you can get your boot on, that will provide some additional support. How to wrap an ankle.
5. Test the ankle. You may need to unload some of the heavier items from your pack, or ask a companion to take some of the gear so you can walk. If possible, lean on a partner as you hike out, or use a walking stick or improvised crutch made from a tree branch. Be sure to stop every hour to cool your ankle and elevate it.
6. When safely back home, visit the doctor as soon as possible for advice about any further treatment that may be necessary.