Ankle sprains are a common injury across all age groups, and can happen during sport, exercise or everyday activity. Sprains involve an inward ‘rolling’ of the foot, which causes ligaments on the outside of the ankle to be damaged or torn as they stretch beyond their maximum length.
The three ligaments on the outside of your ankle are like thick straps that hold everything in place. If they are damaged, your ankle will become less stable, and it will be easier to roll it again in the future. In severe cases, one or more ligaments may rupture completely. You may hear a ‘pop’, and walking will be painful. Severe ankle sprains involving several ligaments may require a surgical boot to allow them to heal without further trauma. Regular ankle sprains require assessment by a GP or physiotherapist, if severe pain is present you may be sent for an x-ray. Trying to ‘walk it off’ or ‘push on’ can often cause more damage.
Physiotherapy is recommended to ensure that the ankle heals properly, and that your ankle doesn’t become a recurring problem. The stages of treatment usually involve:
- Controlling pain and swelling
- Protecting/ immobilising your healing ankle. Your physio will discuss with you about which activities you should initially avoid or modify. We won’t stop you exercising, we may just have to change how you do it in the short term!
- Restoring full ankle movement, strength, balance and stability
- Making sure that your ankle is resilient enough to manage the demands of your daily life, job, exercise program or sport
When is it safe to return to sport or exercise?
The final step above is often neglected! Ankle injuries will linger and recur many times unless balance and stability are properly restored. Often, there will also be other factors that led to your injury in the first place: Your balance may have been poor to begin with, or weak muscles in your hips or legs may have caused your ankle to work harder to compensate. Unless these factors are addressed, you are likely to sprain your ankle again the future. Your physio will make sure you can return to your daily routines, hobbies or sports with confidence.
Written by Tim Nesbitt-Hawes (Physiotherapist)