Ankle Sprains – Recovery, rehab and risk reduction

ANKLE SPRAINS – RECOVERY, REHAB AND RISK REDUCTION

Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries especially in sports such as basketball, netball and football with an incidence rate of 7 per 1,000 exposures. 

Unfortunately some people (athletes, coaches, parents, other health professionals) may think an ankle injury is a minor injury and so in many cases appropriate rehab is not performed.

Making sure your ankle injury is managed properly will go a long way to reducing your risk of re-injury and ongoing complications such as chronic ankle instability. 

What Happens When You Sprain Your Ankle?

There are multiple different structures that can be injured when you sprain your ankle.

The most common ankle sprain is called a lateral ankle sprain and occurs when you roll over the outside of your foot/ankle. This can occur while changing direction, landing from a jump, or treading on an opponents foot. 

When you sprain your ankle, ligaments are stretched and can even completely tear. 

*ligaments connect bone to bone and are important for the stability of joints.

There are 3 ligaments that are commonly involved in a lateral ankle sprain. The anterior-talofibular ligament (ATFL), calcaneo-fibular ligament (CFL) and the posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL). See the image below.

You can also sustain injury to the anterior tibiofibular ligament that attaches the two lower leg bones together (the tibia and fibula). This is referred to as a high ankle sprain or syndesmosis injury. It is important that this type of injury is ruled out as it requires a different approach to rehab compared to the common lateral ankle sprain and in some cases surgery is needed. 

A less common injury is a medial ankle sprain which causes injury to the ligaments on the inside of the ankle. These injuries typically take longer to recover.

How Long Does It Take To Heal?

Ligaments take about 4-6 weeks to heal. Depending on the grade of ligament injury sustained it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months or longer to return to pre-injury activity and sport.

It is important to perform appropriate rehab for your ankle sprain as 20-50% of ankle sprains can lead to chronic ankle instability (pain, swelling & instability). 

Chronic ankle instability increases the risk of re-injury or sustaining multiple ankle sprains which can lead to an increased risk of osteoarthritis later in life.

It is not uncommon for me to see someone with an ankle sprain 6-12 weeks after their initial injury, despite the importance of seeking physiotherapy immediately following an ankle sprain. 

This makes it more difficult to determine exactly what you have done and the extent of the injury.

The sooner you can be assessed the sooner you can begin your rehab and be back doing what you enjoy.

If you do not perform rehab for your injured ankle, your risk of future injury and complications is significantly increased.

What Does Rehab Involve?

Rehab involves a combination of exercises that will get you back to sport or daily activities pain free. Some examples of the different things you may do are…

  • Range of motion exercises to restore normal ranges of motion in the ankle joint
  • Strength exercises to regain strength e.g. calf raises, band resisted ankle movements
  • Balance exercises to regain proprioception
  • Plyometrics to get that spring back and be able to run, jump and change direction with confidence

When you see me for ankle rehab we work our way through a series of exercises that tick all these boxes and make sure you and your ankle are ready for whatever you throw at it.

Here are some examples of rehab exercises you might perform.

What Can Increase Your Risk Of An Ankle Sprain?

Research has shown a number of factors that increase the risk of an ankle sprain, they include:

  1. A history of a previous ankle injury
  2. Wearing shoes with air cells in the heel
  3. Not performing an adequate warm up involving static stretching and dynamic movement
  4. Not having normal ankle dorsiflexion range of motion (bending your ankle up)
  5. Not completing a balance or proprioceptive prevention program if there is a history of previous ankle injury

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Injury or Re-injury?

Firstly, make sure you have completed adequate rehab overseen by a Physiotherapist for any previous ankle injury. There are a number of tests that a Physio can have you perform to determine your readiness to return to sport and check for any underlying deficits. These tests are a combination of strength and movement tests like jumps and hop tests that compare your affected leg to your unaffected leg.

If you can pass these tests before returning to sport your risk of re-injury will be reduced.

One simple test is single leg calf raise strength. A good measure of adequate calf strength for the average active person is being able to perform 25-30 single leg calf raises.

Another way to reduce the risk of re-injury and the severity of future injury is by wearing an ankle brace or strapping your ankle with sports tape. Recent evidence supports the use of an ankle brace or taping for at least 6 months following injury. The role of taping or bracing to prevent first time ankle injury is less evident so there is no need to tape or brace an ankle that hasn’t been injured.

SUMMARY

  • Ankle sprains are not a simple injury
  • Ankle sprains require rehab to help prevent ongoing complications and reduce the risk of re-injury
  • If your doctor or medical professional does not suggest physiotherapy or rehab you can refer yourself to a physiotherapist for rehab, no referral is needed.
  • It is very important to have a physiotherapy assessment after sustaining an ankle injury
  • Taping or bracing can help to reduce the risk of recurrent ankle sprains
  • If you suffer an ankle sprain book in for an assessment so I can get you back on track and back to doing what you enjoy ASAP.

You can book a physiotherapy appointment with me at Reeves Empowered Performance & Nutrition, located in Burnie by clicking HERE.

Daniel Reeves

Physiotherapist Burnie @ The Strength Den

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