Each year, more than 2 million people report experiencing an ankle sprain. An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments in the ankle are stretched beyond their normal limits and tear. Ligaments are a strong tissue that helps to connect bones to other bones. The tearing in the ligament can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of an ankle sprain include ankle swelling, tenderness to touch, bruising, and ankle instability/difficulty walking on the injured ankle.
Immediate care for ankle sprains is important. If proper care is not received, the likelihood of a recurrent sprain increases. When ankle sprains are left untreated, this can lead to further ankle damage including arthritis. It can also lead to difficulty with proprioception/balance and weak muscles.
So what steps should you take if you have been diagnosed with an ankle sprain?
- Start with PRICE - Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation - protecting the area from further damage is important. Avoid strenuous exercise and pressure on the ankle to allow time for it to rest and prepare for eventual gradual return to activity. This will also assist with pain control.
- When instructed by your Physical Therapist, gradually begin ankle motion exercises and basic ankle strengthening exercises to prepare you for return to normal walking. It is very important during this stage to avoid limping as much as possible. Limping is a safety concern and can lead to poor gait mechanics and cause you to experience pain elsewhere. If crutches or another walking device is needed to help you maintain proper walking mechanics, please use it until you are able to walk without the limp.
- Balance/Proprioceptive Exercises - Once you are able to walk without limping or use of any assistive walking devices, you will likely move on to proprioceptive exercises. When an injury occurs at the ankle, the connection between your brain and the ankle is negatively affected and must be strengthened. An example of a proprioceptive exercise is balancing on the injured leg on a foam pad, or standing on the injured leg while catching a ball. By doing proprioceptive exercises this helps to strengthen the brain-ankle connection, allowing your brain to know where your ankle is as you go through various movements. This will help to prevent positions that will over stretch the ankle ligaments and cause another ankle sprain.
There are several things you can do to help prevent yourself from experiencing an ankle injury.
- Wear shoes that are supportive and appropriate for your activity.
- Warm up - get the blood flowing in your muscles and joint to help protect you from injury prior to the start of any activity
- Be aware of your surroundings. Sometimes the ground may be uneven or a curb may suddenly appear. Watch out for these items and they can lead to an ankle twist.
If you are diagnosed with an ankle sprain, the Physical Therapists at Forever Fit Physical Therapy & Wellness are highly skilled and well trained in the treatment of ankle injuries. We’re here to help treat you and answer any questions you might have.