Ankle sprains are a common occurrence early on in the winter sporting season. The most common injury to the ankle is a sprain or tear of the lateral ligaments which provide stability to the ankle joint. This can be caused by over-stretching of ligaments when the foot is suddenly twisted or turned by landing on an uneven surface or taking an awkward step.
An ankle sprain presents with pain, bruising and swelling in the ankle and foot area as well as difficulty weight bearing. Acute management with rest, ice, compression and elevation can reduce pain and improve the rate of recovery. Determining the grade of ankle sprain is important to guide the rehabilitation process and eventual return to sport. Depending on the degree of sprain, return to sport can vary from 2-8 weeks.
As a physiotherapist, our initial role is to ensure an accurate diagnosis of the injury is obtained so the rehabilitation can be guided appropriately. With an acute injury, appropriate strapping or bracing will be provided to manage the swelling and encourage proper scar tissue organisation.
Athletes who do not seek treatment are often left with stiffness after an ankle sprain which impacts their agility and ability to sprint at full speed. Physiotherapists can help athletes to ensure mobility of their ankle and foot post ankle sprain is optimised by using treatment techniques such as joint mobilisations, soft tissue techniques and a home stretching routine.
An important part of rehabilitation of an ankle sprain is restoring strength, balance and stability of the ankle to reduce the risk of further injury. Physiotherapy can help achieve strength and stability with the use of exercises, balance equipment (bosu or wobble board) and sport specific drills.
Return to sport assessment and guidance regarding a gradual return to sport plan will be provided by your physiotherapist as well as any required taping or bracing. Ensuring the appropriate diagnosis, management and return to sport guidelines, a physiotherapist will ensure the athlete can return to sport with full speed and agility, and prevent further injury.
If you did not see a physiotherapist after initially injuring your ankle but are still experiencing reoccurring feelings of instability in the ankle, persistent ankle pain, stiffness or ongoing swelling in the ankle or foot area, seeing a physiotherapist may help manage these symptoms.