Information for hikers in Southern Africa
Where hikers can interact and help each other, as a community.



The ankle is the joint that most often suffers sprains and strains.

These are injuries to the soft tissues surrounding joints where the muscles, ligaments and/or tendons are stretched, or torn, and internal bleeding occurs, causing swelling and pain.

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament, the fibrous band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone with another. Ligaments stabilise and support the body's joints.

A strain is a twist, pull or tear of a muscle or tendon. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone.

A sprain may be caused by twisting your foot as you walk. It causes pain in the joint, which becomes worse if it is moved, and the joint swells.

The most common sprain is an inward twisting of the ankle, which is less likely to occur if padded boots that support the ankle are worn when walking on rough ground.

Pain, swelling, inflamation and the inability to fully use the joint are common to all three categories of sprain - mild, moderate and severe.

A severe sprain produces excruciating pain at the site of the injury where the ligament may separate from the bone.

A moderate sprain partially tears the ligament, producing joint instability, and some swelling.

A ligament is stretched in a mild sprain, but there is no joint loosening.

The best way to treat a sprain is to adhere to the RICE principle - R=rest, I=ice, C=compression, E=elevation.

Stop walking, rest and apply ice, snow, or cold water - if available.

If it is essential to continue walking, it may be better not to remove the boot after an ankle sprain, as swelling may prevent you getting the boot back on.

Otherwise, remove the boot and raise the foot above the level of the heart for 30 minutes to an hour. This also slows the bleeding.

Keep the limb raised as much as possible for the next 24 hours.

If the sprain has occurred within the past 15 to 30 minutes, put a cold compress on the injured area.

If ice is available make the compress by putting the ice in a plastic bag and crushing it. Wrap the bag in a towel before applying it.

A towel soaked in cold water may be used if ice is not available.

Bind the cold compress with a bandage which should remain in place for 20 to 30 minutes.

The pressure helps to close the blood vessels and slow the bleeding.

Be careful not to tie the bandage so tight as to cut off circulation.

If neccessary, take aspirin, paracetamol or Ibuprofen in recommended doses to reduce pain the first night after injury. Remember, however, that painkillers should never be used to enable you to keep on going. Pain is a valuable warning sign.

After removing the compress, bandage the joint firmly. A sprained ankle can be supported more effectively by strapping it with broad, non-stretchable tape to hold the ankle in the opposite way to the direction of injury.

Make one turn around the ankle, then go over the instep, under the foot, back across the instep and around the ankle again several times. This should be followed by a firm, elastic bandage applied over the tape to further support the sprained limb.

Once the initial swelling and pain have subsided, the sprained joint should be mildly and progressively exercised, with pain being the guiding factor.

When the injured area has been free of pain for at least 10 days, begin light exercise.

It is important in all but mild cases for a medical doctor to evaluate the injury and establish a treatment and rehabilitation plan.

A severe sprain or strain may require surgery or immobilisation followed by months of physiotherapy and strengthening exercises.

Mild sprains and strains may require rehabilitation exercises and activity modification during recovery.

Prevention is far better than cure. So, ensure your hiking boots provide ankle support and try to "watch your step!".

In other words, watch where you are placing your feet on uneven ground and ease off the pace, if necessary. You'll end up going far slower with a sprained or strained ankle.

If you can think of any other topics (or ANY other suggestions for improvement) we should consider including in future, please either use the FEEDBACK FORM or simply e-mail us...

Ray Ray Wood rayw@telkomsa.net
Alan Alan Holm alanh@ainet.co.za

We really look forward to hearing from YOU.