A sprained ankle is one of the most common sports injuries and is also the most frequently re-injured. In the majority of cases, the ankle rolls inwards (inversion) under the weight of the rest of the body, resulting in damage to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
Here you will find everything you need to know about diagnosing, treating and rehabilitating a sprained ankle for an effective and speedy recovery.
Pain is usually felt around the ankle joint itself although more specifically on the outside of the ankle where the damaged ligaments are located.
Swelling or bruising may present immediately or may take up to 48 hours to develop (depending on the types of structures damaged and the severity of the sprain). It should also be noted that in milder cases, this may never appear at all.
Sprains are graded 1, 2 or 3 depending on their severity and a professional therapist will be able to tell you which grade of injury you have sustained after carrying out a full ankle assessment.
Grade 1 sprain result in mild symptoms with some pain and little or no swelling. There may be a feeling of joint “stiffness” with some degree of difficulty in walking or running, however, more often than not, the athlete is able to play on and finish the training session or game. In these type of injuries, the ligaments are usually stretched rather than completely torn and the ankle should feel better relatively quickly. Recovery time for mild (grade 1) ankle sprains is usually somewhere between 2 and 4 weeks.
Grade 2 sprain result in symptoms of moderate to severe pain with severe difficulty in walking. The athlete is unlikely to be able to play on and will often limp heavily. Minor bruising and swelling may present immediately but can take several hours (up to 48) to develop. The ankle will feel very stiff but may also feel unstable resulting from a number of torn ligament fibres (this can be tested more accurately by a professional therapist). Recovery time for moderate ankle sprains (grade 2) takes is 4 and 8 weeks.
Grade 3 sprain result in almost complete tears or total ruptures of the ligament(s). There will be severe pain immediately and the ankle may feel very unstable and weak. Swelling usually develops immediately and bruising often develops over the next 48 hours. These injuries need to be assessed in a hospital and often require an x-ray to ensure no bones have been broken. Severe ankle sprains (grade 3) can take up to 3 months to recover.
Read more about ankle sprain symptoms and diagnosis.
Ankle sprains usually occur as a result of a sudden twisting or rolling action of the ankle and this can be from either contact (tackles) or non-contact situations. The most common structures that are damaged in sprained ankles are the lateral ligaments (which joint bone to bone) on the outside of the ankle, however, tendons (join muscles to bone), muscles, nerves, and bones can also be injured.
There are a number of causes of ankle sprains and these include poor proprioception, previous injury history, and inappropriate footwear. In order to understand how these injuries usually occur, it is important to know about the anatomy of the ankle joint in more detail.
Read more on the anatomy and causes of ankle injuries.
Sprained ankle treatment
Home treatment starts by applying the PRICE principles (protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Apply a cold therapy and compression wrap to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. Ice or cold therapy can be applied for 10 mins every hour initially reducing the frequency as symptoms improve. Wear an ankle support to protect the injured ligaments and provide compression.
Taping is another treatment that can be used to both protect the injured ankle but also improve confidence following such an injury. Here at sportsinjuryclinic.net, we show you simple steps on how to tape your ankle for both the recovery period and for when you return to sport.
This is then followed by a program of mobilising, strengthening and finally functional exercises. We have compiled a step-by-step ankle sprain rehabilitation program that takes you from the initial injury through to full fitness.
One of the most important parts of ankle injury rehabilitation and also in preventing re-injuries is proprioception. It is essential that proprioception exercises are performed to “fire” up the muscles around the ankle joint complex to prevent re-injuries from occurring.
Finally, if you choose to see a professional therapist to treat your ankle injury, he/she may choose to use electrotherapy such as ultrasound or sports massage to help stimulate healing and blood flow into the area.
Read more on treatment and rehabilitation of ankle sprains.
We have interviewed our resident expert Neal Reynolds about how to treat a sprained ankle and top tips for ankle rehabilitation.
One of our top tips is:
“People often say they have 'weak' ankles but in most cases, they have ankles that are in fact “poor proprioceptively” and not weak at all. Proprioception is by far the most effective treatment for treating and is the secret to preventing re-injuries in ankle injuries.”
In addition to the ligament damage in ankle sprains, there may also be associated damage to tendons, the joint capsules, the bones, the cartilages, the nerves or other soft tissues. As mentioned before, severely sprained ankles result in complete or almost complete ruptures of the ligaments and may be associated with dislocations and fractures of the ankle bones.
Types of bone/joint injuries in ankle sprains
- An avulsion fracture
- Osteochondral Lesions
- Ankle Fractures
To read more on possible complications and associated injuries for ankle sprains, click here.