Ankle sprains are a very common injury in sports and in active individuals alike. Statistically there are about seven ankle sprains per 1,000 injuries, however, many ankle sprains occur and are not reported because the person never sees the doctor. Ankle sprains most commonly affect the outer ankle and occur when the foot is forced inward like when a basketball player lands partially on someone else’s foot causing the ankle to roll. The most common ligaments sprained are those on the outer edge of the ankle, but in severe cases fractures can also occur.
While it may seem like most ankle sprains heal fairly well on their own, here is a statistic that may be surprising to you; 72 percent of people who have sprained their ankle continue to have persistent pain at least six months following the injury. Even more concerning is that the re-injury rate is as high as 80 percent.
A recent multi-clinic study in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy determined that patients who underwent manual (hands-on) physical therapy and exercise had significantly greater improvements in pain and function at four weeks and six months compared to a group of patients who only did home exercises. Previous studies have also shown that you can reduce your risk of re-injury more than 50 percent with skilled therapy which includes specific exercise and balance retraining.
Three tips for recovering from an ankle sprain
- Ice and elevate the ankle: Ice or cool the ankle with it above the level of your heart for 10-15 minutes every two hours. Be sure to use a towel or pillowcase between your ankle and the ice to avoid an ice burn.
- X-rays: If you are unable to bear weight get an X-ray. If you are able to bear weight consider going to your physical therapist or primary physician for an assessment to determine if you need an X-ray.
- Physical therapy (PT): Start physical therapy ASAP to begin gentle range of motion and exercises. The PT will assess and determine whether compression or kinesiology taping are necessary to decrease swelling and assist with pain management. Your PT session will consist of selectively determined stretching and strengthening exercise progressions critical for challenging the injured tissue in a controlled environment. You will be progressed and challenged with balance exercises designed to return you as quickly as possible to your desired activity and to prevent re-injury.
Ankle sprains may be a common injury but they don’t have to be one that results in long term pain or increased potential for another sprain. A little physical therapy can go a long way toward a quick and lasting recovery.