Ankle sprains are a common injury associated with sports that involve change of direction. The most common type of ankle sprains regularly occur following “inversion” injuries where the foot rolls inwards. This commonly results in stretching the anterior talo-fibular ligament (ATFL). Fortunately, if rehabilitated well, there can be good capacity to heal and surrounding ligaments can provide good stability. Conversely, if not rehabilitated thoroughly, sprains can routinely lead to increased time away from sport or complications associated with altered movement and biomechanics.
Following an ankle sprain, it is important to rest, ice, compress and elevate. Icing for 10 – 15 minutes every few hours for the first 72 hours is recommended. Regardless of any associated swelling or bruising, physiotherapy assessment and treatment should be commenced as soon as possible. Your physiotherapist is equipped to assess the severity of the sprain and are able to refer for medical imaging if required. During the acute period, physiotherapy will aim to restore normal movement and reduce swelling. Appropriate weight bearing in the early stages is crucial and your physiotherapist will be able to advise what is most appropriate following injury.
Once pain and swelling has settled, rehabilitation can focus on regaining strength and proprioception. Following any ligament sprain, your proprioception (the ability to sense and react to changes in position or balance) is affected. Without specific rehabilitation and exercise, evidence suggests that this does not return on it’s own accord. As a result, if ankle sprains are poorly managed, further complications can occure. These include an increased risk of recurrent ankle sprains, increased risk of knee injuries (including ACL rupture) and altered biomechanics.
As your rehabilitation progresses, specific return to sport exercises designed to improve agility and changing of direction will be introduced. Taping or bracing can be used to accelerate return to sport but should only be used under the guidance of your physiotherapist.
If you have experienced an ankle sprain, be sure to consult your physiotherapist to ensure a comprehensive rehabilitation program is implemented to help keep you active and injury free!