Is a Hot Tub Good for a Sprained Ankle?
Every year, two million people in the US suffer from an ankle sprain. According to many studies, water-based treatment can be helpful for such ligament injuries. As such, this may have made you wonder, "is a hot tub good for a sprained ankle?"
Yes, it can, because a hot tub can serve as a tool for water or hydrotherapy, also known as aquatic therapy. Scientists say that water therapy produces many scientific effects on the body. For ankle sprains, water therapy can help reduce pain while enhancing ligament rehabilitation.
How Exactly Is a Hot Tub Good for a Sprained Ankle?
A hot tub is good for a sprained ankle because you can use it as part of your hot water treatment. The water buoyancy can also lend extra support to the body's weight, easing pressure off your foot. This makes hot tub baths helpful when it's time to introduce some activity to a recovering ankle.
How Does a Hot Tub Work to Help a Sprained Ankle Recover?
There are two primary ways that hot tubs can help with sprains: through hot water and the water's buoyancy. Hot water therapy is a scientifically-backed way to improve vasodilation. The water's buoyancy, in turn, helps reduce both impact and stress on an injured ankle.
The Effects of Hot Water on Injured Ankle Ligaments
If you turn or twist your ankle to the point of a sprain, it means that you've torn one of its ligaments. It can either be a partial or complete tear, but either way, it's a type of tissue injury. As an injury, increasing blood flow to your ankle can be helpful after the initial swelling.
Hot water therapy, as mentioned above, can boost vasodilation.
This means that it helps widen the blood vessels, resulting in more blood flow. The more blood that flows to your injured ligament, the more oxygen and nutrients it gets.
This means that soaking in warm or hot water can help nourish your sprained ankle. Therefore, the improved blood flow to the injured site can help hasten your recovery.
This is also why patients with other types of sprains, such as ACL sprains, use hydrotherapy. Researchers also say that aquatic treatment can speed up ACL injury recuperation.
Did you know that there's science behind the pain-reducing effects of a hot water compress? According to scientists, warm or hot water can block pain receptors in the body. The water's high temperature inactivates pain receptors on a cellular level.
It's also for this reason that patients with chronic pain conditions use hydrotherapy. For instance, scientists say that water therapy can help relieve fibromyalgia symptoms. Many patients also report having fewer pain instances after hydrotherapy sessions.
Patients with arthritis, as well as scientists who study OA, also report the same effects. In one study, patients with knee OA said that the treatment led to a significant pain reduction. They also reported having a much higher overall quality of life.
These pain-relieving benefits of hot water also apply to ankle sprains. Aside from blocking pain, the improved blood flow caused by the water also helps reduce pain. This results from the loosening of muscles that may have wound tight after your injury.
Loosening Stiff Muscles
The abnormal movements that cause you to sprain your ankle may also be enough to pull a muscle. In this case, you may have both a sprain and a strain. At the very least, one or more of your foot or ankle muscles may feel tight due to the injury.
Either way, soaking in a hot tub can help loosen these stiff foot muscles. Again, this has to do with the vasodilating effects of hot water therapy. The improved blood flow that it leads to can help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness.
In fact, researchers say that leg immersion in warm water can reduce muscle soreness. It can also help decrease muscle pain and help damaged muscles recover.
The Benefits of Water Buoyancy on Injured Ankles
At some point during your recovery, you must begin moving your ankle again. The key is a gradual re-introduction of movement so as not to cause a re-injury.
Experts say that gentle active range of motion (AROM) exercises are a good starting point. According to studies, such activities can help boost ankle mobility. They can even help alleviate swelling to a degree, provided that you can bear with the pain.
Performing these exercises in the water can help boost their effects.
For starters, the buoyancy of the water will provide support to your injured ligament. The water's force will carry some of your foot's weight, helping reduce the stress of the exercise. This, in turn, gives you the chance to re-introduce safer motions to your injured ankle.
The water's buoyancy will also have a gentle compressing effect on the sprained ankle. This pressure can further reduce swelling and also keep your ankle from moving too much.
When Is a Hot Tub Good for Ankle Sprains?
Most people who sprain their ankle can soak in a hot tub a few days following the injury. The golden rule is only to apply heat to a sprain once it's no longer swollen. Depending on the severity of your sprain, ankle inflammation may last for a few days to a week.
If you're unsure if you can already soak in a hot tub, get in touch with your doctor. Your primary healthcare provider can tell you if it's already safe to soak your ankle in hot water.
Is a Hot Tub Good for Ankle Instabilities?
Ankle instability occurs in one in every five cases of acute ankle sprains. Left untreated, an unstable ankle can progress into a chronic condition.
Unstable ankles, unfortunately, are even more susceptible to new injuries. That's because the ankle's unstable structure makes it easier to "give way." Because of this, you may find that you're more prone to rolling, twisting, or turning your ankle.
The great news is that studies found hydrotherapy to help in stabilizing ankles. However, researchers say that it should be in conjunction with ankle taping. The combination of these two can yield better results in treating ankle instability.
If you rather not use ankle tapes, then you can opt to wear an ankle support brace. You can use this throughout your recovery period from a sprain. Unlike tapes, ankle braces are easy to affix, remove, and may also be more comfortable.
Is Hot or Cold Better for Sprained Ankle?
You should use cold therapy or treatment immediately after spraining your ankle. Aside from ankle sprains, you should ice a shoulder, knee, elbow, or any other injury. Using ice will help relieve or prevent some amount of swelling that will occur right after an injury.
Depending on the extent of your ankle sprain, you may have to ice your injury for the first 24 to 72 hours. Your doctor will give you instructions as to how long you need to use cold treatment.
Once the swelling goes down, you can then use heat to help your sprained ankle heal.
How Can You Safely Use a Hot Tub for Sprains?
Before you soak your ankle or your entire body in a hot tub, be sure to consult your doctor first. This is especially true if your sprain also came with an open wound. Open cuts can become infected if you let it soak in water for a long time.
At the very least, the hot tub water may irritate your fresh wound.
Even if you don't have a cut, you should still ask your doctor for confirmation before using a hot tub. This way, your physician can make certain that your ankle is no longer swollen.
It's also best to practice a few "on-land" flexing exercises first before you get into a hot tub. You can use an ankle compression support strap to provide extra stabilization. Doing this can help prepare your injured ankle to move against the water's resistance.
It's also vital to have someone ready to support you as you go into and out of the hot tub. You may be able to walk on a sprained ankle but remember: you're dealing with water here. It can be easier for you to slip on a wet surface with an injured foot.
Hot Tub Therapy Can Help With Ankle Sprains
There you have it, the comprehensive guide that answers your question, "is a hot tub good for a sprained ankle?" Now, you know that it can, so long as done properly and with your doctor's recommendations. If your doctor does advise hot tub therapy, be sure that you always have someone to help you get in and out of the water.
If you're looking for ankle devices to use in conjunction with hot tub therapy, we can help. Check out our collection of ankle braces and supports that you can wear to stabilize your foot.