Ankle Sprains

Have you ever been walking around on grass or uneven surfaces and felt your ankle roll under you? Maybe you were playing sport, jumped and landed on someone’s foot? Well if this has happened to you – that would most likely be an ankle sprain. Most of us will experience one throughout our lifetime and often they can take as little as a few days to recover, other times they can take up to 3 months. Below I’ll outline what they are, why they happen and what to do if this has happens to you!

What is an ankle sprain?

The ankle sprain is one of the most common injuries. It occurs when the foot rolls inward under the leg, placing strain to the structures on the outside (lateral aspect) of the ankle. Ligaments joint our bones together and there are 3 main ligaments that support the lateral ankle. The most commonly injured in the ATFL (anterior talofibular ligament), the CFL (calcaneofibular ligament) and the PTFL (posterior talofibular ligament). Less commonly injured is the deltoid ligament which sits on the inside part of the ankle and stabilises the medial aspect of the ankle. This occurs usually under a higher force when there is compression to the inner structures of the ankle.

What happens to the ankle and what do I do?

Initially you may feel pain and swelling, have difficulty walking or potentially unable to weight bear. It is important to follow the RICER protocol for initial management. This is followed for the first 24-48 hours with any soft tissue injury. Icing for 20mins every 2 hours, elevating the joint and using a compression bandage are all aiming to reduce swelling and injury in the injured area. Complete off-loading of the ankle is usually not necessary unless your physiotherapist has advised or they are ruling out a fracture. Getting the ankle moving early on is important in the rehabilitation process. Gentle ankle range of movement and walking as tolerated will help you to return to activity quicker.

Where do I go?

Your physiotherapist will be able to assess and diagnose the severity of your ankle injury. They will need to complete a number of tests to assess the stability and integrity of your ligaments. In more severe sprains you may be sent for a XRAY or MRI to rule out a fracture.

Your physiotherapist will guide you through the rehabilitation process. Even with a minor sprain you will be required to do a program to rehabilitate your strength, balance and proprioception over 6-8 weeks. This will mean your ankle will be strong and less chance of needing braces, or long term strapping, or reinjuring it.

Physiotherapy can also assist by manual therapy and joint mobilisation techniques to regain full range of movement and reduce painful symptoms. We may also use taping as a support as you progress back into your regular activity.

When will it get better?

Pain and swelling will often settle within the first week and minor injuries may not need much time away from activity. More severe ankle injuries can require you to take time of your sport or activity and you will be guided by your physiotherapist in progressing back to these activities. Seeing your physiotherapist within the first week on injury is the best way to get you started on your rehabilitation process to achieve the quickest and best outcome for your ankle.