Can You Ride A Bike With A Sprained Ankle: A doctors advice


A sprained ankle can be a very painful and limiting injury. Many regular cyclists will be wondering if they can continue to cycle with a sprained ankle, and if so, what is the best way to do it. As a keen cyclist and doctor, I thought I would spend some time explaining whether or not you can ride a bike with a sprained ankle.

In general, you may be able to ride a bike 2 to 3 weeks following a mild ankle sprain, however, this should be guided by your doctor, the level of pain you currently have, and if the swelling has settled down. In more severe sprains, you may have to wait for up to 3 months before you are able to ride your bike.

So, we’ve established that you might be able to ride a bike within a few weeks of spraining your ankle, but what is the best way to get back into the saddle when you feel you are ready? I take a more detailed look into this, as well as how to manage a sprained ankle in the rest of this article.

Can you ride a bike with a sprained ankle?

First things first. While I am a qualified doctor, it is important for me to remind you that I have not been able to properly assess you before giving this advice. This page has general guidance and if you are concerned about a sprained ankle then you should ensure you are seeking formal medical attention.

This article is a resource that can help you to get back into cycling once you have been already fully assessed and are seeking further clarification. For further advice on when to seek medical attention, please see this link from Patient UK.

Whether or not you can ride a bike with a sprained ankle will depend on multiple different factors including how severe your sprained ankle is, as well as how long it has been since you injured your ankle.

What is a sprained ankle?

An ankle sprain is where one of the ligaments in your ankle is stretched too far. Most ankle sprains occur when you invert (roll in) or evert (roll out) your foot. As such, the ligaments that you typcially hurt in these types of injuries tend to be ones that get worked when you move your ankle “in and out” rather than “up and down”.

Cycling itself does not require much “in and out” movement from your ankle and so it may be possible for you to start cycling as a late part of your ankle sprain recovery, but the timing of this will depend on how severe the sprain was.

How severe is your sprained ankle?

Doctors and medical professionals use a grading system to define how badly a ligament has been damaged during an injury. This will help guide how long your ankle sprain will take to recover, and thus how quickly you can cycle after your injury.

When you get your ankle reviewed by a medical professional, they should be able to advise you on the severity of an ankle sprain. Please note that the below times are only estimates, and any advice from your own personal doctor should be followed over the times below.

GradeInjuryRecovery Time
1A mild stretch of ankle ligaments2-3 weeks
2A partial tear of a ligament but the ankle is still stable4-6 weeks
3Complete tear of the ligament and the ankle is unstable3 months or more
Recovery time estimates from Central Vermont Medical Center

How to look after a sprained ankle before you can ride on it?

How quickly you can ride on a bike will not only be dependent on how severe the sprain is, but also on how well you look after the sprained ankle in the first few days and weeks of the injury. So what important steps should you be taking?

The first 72 hours

The aim for the first 72 hours is to protect the ankle from any further damage, while also reducing inflammation and pain.

As with most sporting injuries, the steps you will want to use follow the acronym PRICE.

StepMethod
ProtectMake sure to protect the ankle, ensuring it has no more damage done to it
RestRest the ankle, try to keep weight off of your ankle, limit the activity you need to do
IceUse regular ice packs on the ankle to reduce inflammation and swelling
CompressionUse compression on the ankle to help limit swelling
ElevationKeep the ankle lifted above the height of your heart, for example lying down with your foot on a pillow.

After 72 hours

In this period of time, the amount you can do with your ankle will depend on how severe the sprain was, as well as how much pain and swelling there still is. While you do not want to keep the ankle joint completely still (this can cause it to stiffen up), you also do not want to be working the ankle too hard.

Patient UK advises that at this point you should be doing very easy activities such as mobility exercises, and ensuring that you are not doing any form of activity that causes the ankle any pain. Obviously, you also do not want to do any activities that could risk you redamaging your ankle.

Many people elect to use ankle supports during this period to help give their ankle more support as it heals, and help them to return to more of a state of normality.

If at this point your doctor has advised you to do any specific mobility exercises for your ankle, make sure to actually do these. Skipping these can cause your ankle to become stiffer, and swell up. Both of which will delay healing and delay you getting out on a bike.

For more information on the immediate and short-term management of an ankle sprain, take a look at this article from Patient UK.

How long before you can cycle with a sprained ankle?

So, you’ve been doing all the steps above, how will you know when your ankle is ready to go back to cycling?

The severity of the sprain

First things first, you should be waiting a minimum amount of time before you consider cycling on a sprained ankle. Even if your ankle is feeling fine, pushing yourself too hard and too early has a high chance of setting back your recovery and doing you damage.

As we established above, this minimum time is dependent on how severe the damage to your ankle was, and should be guided by your own personal doctor. For mild sprains, you will be looking at a minimum of a few weeks, whereas with more severe sprains it could be many months.

Please note, that online resources can be very helpful in getting estimates of these sorts of things, but should not replace direct medical advice, speak to your own doctor about how long you should be out of the saddle before returning to your bike.

If your ankle is “back to normal”

Apart from the minimum time requirement, it is also advisable that your ankle is feeling “back to normal” before you return to cycling. This means that the swelling should have settled down, it no longer feels warm to the touch, the bruising has gone away and you are able to put weight on the ankle without any pain.

What is the best way to cycle after you have sprained your ankle?

Get back into cycling gradually

First of all, make sure that when you return to cycling you are starting very gradually. This means a very short ride, on a flat surface and with no inclines. Once you’ve managed this cycle a couple of times without any issues look to gradually increase the time, distance, and difficulty of your rides over a few weeks. If you start to get any pain in your ankle, take a break to allow it time to recover.

Stay on safe roads

For the first few rides, try and stay on the road or pavement rather than going “off-road”. Off-road cycling may require you to stand on the pedals which will put more strain on your ankle. Off-road cycling also has more potential for you to put your foot down suddenly, which again could cause more damage.

Use an ankle support

Consider using an ankle support while cycling, this will help to keep the ankle more stable as you cycle and can limit any further damage. Some braces are small enough that they can fit inside a cycling shoe. If you don’t have a brace you can also tape up the ankle to add some extra support.

Swap over to flat pedals

Try swapping to flat pedals for a period of time. Unclipping from bike pedals puts more “in and out” forces on your ankle. This can hurt or damage the ligaments that are still recovering. When you do return to using clip-in pedals, try to unclip with the other foot wherever possible.

If you are using flat pedals, use some boot-like shoes that cover your ankle. This again will add another level of support that can help you to get back in the saddle more quickly.

Use an exercise or electric bike

If you have an exercise or electric bike, these could both be useful during your recovery period as they will both allow you to take the first few cycles more easily. The exercise bike removes the risk of a crash or you falling off, whereas the electric bike can help to reduce the weight you have to put through the pedals.

Overall

As you can see, whether or not you can cycle on a sprained ankle is very dependent on the time since the injury as well as the severity of the sprain itself.

Whenever you are looking to get back into cycling after an ankle sprain, make sure you are following certain pieces of advice such as using flat pedals and ankle supports to help you get back into the saddle as quickly and as safely as possible.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

Related Articles