What is an ankle sprain ?
The ankle joint is made up of four bones shaped to make the joint stable. Increased stability of the joint is provided by ligaments, which are bands of strong, fibrous tissue that guide movement and prevent the joint from moving too much. An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments are over stretched causing ligament fibres and small blood vessels to tear. Pain, bleeding in the tissues and swelling are the result.
What should I do after a sprain ?
As soon as possible, and for 72 hours after injury, use the RICE method:
Take it easy and only move within your limit of pain.
As soon as possible, and for 20 minutes every two hours, apply ice or a frozen gel pack wrapped in a damp towel. This helps to control bleeding and pain and reduces secondary tissue damage.
Firmly bandage the entire ankle and lower shin. This helps to control swelling
As much as possible, elevate your ankle higher than the level of your heart to reduce swelling
Recover can start very early after an injury. Physiotherapy rehabilitation techniques will help reduce the time that you ankle is movement is restricted so that you can get back to work and sport more quickly. Rehabilitation also facilitates a good quality ligament repair and the return of normal muscle and nerve function. Avoid any of the HARM factors in the first 48 hours to prevent increased swelling and help your recovery:
How physiotherapy can help
Your physiotherapist will examine the injured ankle to determine which ligaments are damaged and to what extent they are torn, and can order an X-ray if needed. Early treatment will reduce the swelling and pain, making it easier to walk. Even one treatment and advice can make a significant difference.
Special techniques called mobilisation help to increase your range of ankle movement so that it is easier to walk and move the ankle. Mobilisation the ankle also helps to build a healthy scar in the ligament. Your Physiotherapist will show you exercises that are important to improve the strength of the calf and ankle muscles to compensate for the damaged ligament, and give some protection while the ligament is healing. They can also teach you how to retrain your muscles to react quickly to changes in ankle position to prevent repetitive sprains.
Can ankle sprains be prevented ?
You can reduce the chance and severity of ankle sprains by doing the following:
- Wear activity-specific well-fitting shoes, use sports strapping tape or an ankle brace to provide good ankle joint support.
- Avoid activities on slippery or uneven surfaces and in areas with poor lighting.
- Keep your leg muscles strong, especially your calf and ankle muscles to help protect the ligament.
- Prepare your body for activity by warming up well.
When to return to work/sport
Your physiotherapist will discuss the injury with you and estimate the time it will take to recover. The time to full recovery varies from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity of ligament damage. Remember that the pain and swelling subsides much faster than the time it takes for the ligament and muscles to regain normal strength. Returning to work or sport too early can delay healing and prolong recovery.
Your Physiotherapist can teach you how to do special ankle taping or fit you with and ankle brace so that you can return to activity earlier, while protecting the ankle from further damage.