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Tips for managing an ankle sprain

Updated: Apr 15

A female running clutching her ankle from pain

Your ankle joint is formed by the bones of your lower leg called the tibia and fibula and the top of a bone in your foot called the talus.

Either side of the ankle joint we have a series of ligaments attached across the bones mentioned above to help keep the ankle joint stable while we move around. When we fall or loose our balance these ligaments can be placed under excess stress resulting injury to these ligaments. This form of injury is called a sprain.

A sprain results in micro tearing and stretching of the ligament which can lead to symptoms of swelling, pain, redness/bruising, reduced movement and difficulty walking and weight bearing on that foot.

There are varying degrees of sprains - normally graded from 1 to 3:

  • Grade 1 = fairly mild with very minimal if any tearing occurring to the ligament and little to no instability felt at the ankle. There may be some mild pain and swelling with some difficulty walking but normally a person can return to sport within 2-4weeks.

  • Grade 2 = slightly more serious with some micro tearing of the ligament occurring and stretching resulting in pain, instability, swelling, stiffness, bruising and difficulty weight-bearing on that foot. A person can miss up to 3 months of sport and activity depending on the level and the type of sport they perform.

  • Grade 3 = a complete rupture of the ligament occurs with a large amount of instability together with a lot of swelling and bruising. Weight bearing will also be very difficult as the foot and ankle will feel very unsupported, the pain will settle directly after the rupture and won’t be as noticeable. In this case some individuals will require potentially 6-8months away from sport. It is important to get a professional diagnosis, since there may also be damage to tendons, bones and other joint tissues.

First Aid Treatment of the sprain will involve PRICER:

  • Protection of the ankle by taping, splinting or using a brace to immobilise the joint.

  • Rest - staying off the affected area e.g. using crutches and only putting some weight through and using an aid to assist with walking will rest the ligament and aid in the healing process.

  • Ice - this reduces pain and muscle spasm and can help reduce the amount of swelling. *Ice should be applied for up to 20minutes every 1-2hours for the following 72hours after injury.

  • Compression - this can be done either with taping, wrapping a bandage around the area or tight tubing bandage as this will help to control swelling and/or oedema and can help the joint feel more stable

  • Elevation during rest periods also helps to control oedema and promote healing. The ankle/foot must be elevated about heart level to be truly effective.

  • Refer - make an appointment to see a physiotherapist to have your ankle assessed and be guided through an appropriate rehabilitation program to ensure you regain full strength and movement in your ankle and to reduce the risk of another ankle sprain in the future.

What will your physiotherapy program involve?

  • Initially your physio will guide you on managing the swelling and may use certain treatments like ultrasound to help reduce the inflammation early on.

  • Your physio will also teach you how use crutches (especially going up and down stairs and moving from sitting to standing) and fit the crutches if needed.

  • A physio can tape your ankle and/so provide you with a tubi-grip stocking to help with compression and swelling control.

  • Once the swelling and pain have reduced, mobility and strengthening exercises can begin

  • Weight bearing will be increased slowly according to pain and stability - your physio will guide you through this e.g. they will help you wean off your crutches and ensure you are walking with correct technique

  • According your assessment findings and pain and stability your physio will create a progressive rehabilitation program aimed at increasing your ankle mobility, strength and muscle length as well as balance.

  • Your physio may also use some hands on techniques such as massage and joint manipulation to ensure your ankle returns to full movement and function.

  • Based on your assessment your physio may also refer you to one of our podiatrists.

Ensure your ankle returns to full function by getting the proper treatment as early as you can. Book and manage your appointments online here.

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