Treating a sprained ankle the RIGHT way early on means a stronger ankle, faster recovery and less chance of re-injury. In this series I will tell you what a sprained ankle involves, the most effective self treatment and the best rehab exercises to get you back out there!
First of all, a little information about what a sprained ankle involves, but if you are in the know about Sprains already, skip the info and scroll down to Self – Treatment
Sprained ankles are known by a few different names:
- Twisted ankle
- Rolled ankle
- Lateral ankle sprain
- Inversion ankle sprain
- And of course “Oh no!”
The most common type of sprained ankle is the lateral ankle sprain (85%), and that is what we are going to discuss and sort out today.
Mechanism of injury: The plain and simple is that a sprained ankle is typically when your foot is forced inward (inversion) and down at the same time (often when changing direction, turning and/or on uneven surfaces). This puts the ligaments under too much stress too fast which causes a tear of one or more of your ankle ligaments.
Quick anatomy: The lateral (outer) ankle has 3 ligaments supporting, with the weakest of these (and so most often injured) being the ATFL. The ATFL is the Ligament at the front of the ankle shown here and in most simple sprains, this is the one torn with or without the ligament below it.
Sprained ankle recovery time: The general recovery time is 2-6 weeks (if looked after properly) and keep in mind, even if it feels bad now, if you do all the right things you will be one of the 95% who return to sport and activity within 6 weeks.
Not taking ankle rehab seriously often leads to far too many chronic ankles, long-term disability and other injuries so YOU NEED TO TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!
Note: it is important to rule out fractures early on. An accurate way of doing this is using the Ottawa ankle rules, or going to see your local Physio for a quick assessment – These rules are great for minimizing unnecessary X-rays.
Self – treatment
Initial management: In the first 72 hours it is very important to follow the RICE and HARM principles – This will take weeks off your recovery.
- Rest – From running etc.
- Ice – 10 minutes at a time, no more, every hour you are awake.
- Compression – Eg Tubigrip.
- Elevation – Get your foot above your heart when possible.
HARM increases blood flow to the area, worsening inflammation and so causing more secondary damage and a longer healing time.
Keep moving (within reason of course) – It is important not to baby sprained ankles and start weight-bearing through them as soon as possible to normalize movement and decrease loss of muscle activity. If necessary you may need to be on crutches for the first 24 hours (if very painful and you really have tried to walk on it) then move to partial weight-bearing and then full weight-bearing.
Foot paddling is a great exercise to do in these early days – In sitting or lying, simply point your toes up then down repeatedly in a pain-free range. You can try doing small circles with your foot also, remembering not to push into pain. Do this every 1-2 hours (little and often)
Footwear: Wearing good supportive footwear with heel and arch support(such as your runners) is great as this takes the pressure off the injured ligaments and lets them heal well. DO NOT WEAR HIGH HEELS (Please!).
AND THEN: After the first 48-72 hours of doing this, click over to rehab exercises and get started rehabilitating your sprained ankle! And remember you still use ice after the first few days whenever it is sore or swollen.
Check out this quick balance and stability test when healing well to check if your hip strength is holding you back (especially if you have had a lot of lower limb injuries lately).
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