Ankle Sprains – 101
With football underway and basketball beginning, one of the more common injuries a student athlete or weekend warrior will encounter is an ankle sprain. This can be a major setback and if left untreated may become a chronic issue. With proper diagnosis and treatment you can speed recovery and return to competition.
The definition of a sprain is an injury that stretches a ligament (tissue that connects one bone to another). Ankle sprains most often occur during high impact or cutting activities but can also occur with a simple slip on an uneven surface or ice. They can range from a mild (Grade 1 sprain) to a more severe (Grade 3 sprain) which could involve tearing of a ligament.
Approximately 80% of ankle sprains involve an injury to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. This happens when the foot is rolled to the inside relative to the lower leg. When these ligaments sprain, pain and swelling often times limit your range of motion, strength, and ability to balance.
The most accepted way to initially treat an ankle sprain is to follow the acronym R.I.C.E.
Rest – involves decreasing activity on the injured ankle. This can mean using crutches to completely avoid use or to continue walking but avoid running.
Ice – within the 72 hours after an injury we recommend icing the ankle for 20 minutes at a time. By placing ice on the ankle this helps to reduce blood flow to the area and decrease swelling. Ice also helps to numb the ankle which reduces pain.
Compression – apply an ACE wrap in a circular fashion beginning near the toes and ending on the shin to help compress or move the swelling toward your heart.
Elevation – prop the injured ankle on pillows to elevate the entire leg above heart level. This uses gravity to also help move swelling toward your heart.
Once the initial pain and swelling decrease, proper rehabilitation exercises begin. It’s important to keep the ankle mobile with range of motion exercises that involve moving the ankle in all planes. Strength can be restored with resistance band exercises and by performing activities on your feet: squats, lunges, step ups, etc. Balance exercises are key for full recovery, standing on one leg, standing on uneven surfaces, or balancing while trying to catch a ball. Next, returning to running and then cutting/agility drills. The use of ankle tape can help protect the ankle and reduce the severity of reinjury but may not completely prevent a sprain.
If you unfortunately sustain an ankle injury it is best to be evaluated by an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or orthopedic physician. They will help individualize a plan of action to help you rehabilitate and return to activity while minimizing complications. Feel free to contact us at UnityPoint Health – Des Moines Physical Therapy or Athletic Training Services.
Brett Beltrame, PT, ATC • UnityPoint Health – Des Moines • Outpatient Therapy West • 6001 Westown Parkway Suite 205 • West Des Moines, IA 50266 • (515)224-5225