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Woman putting ice pack on her sprained ankle

Sprained Ankle Treatment and Recovery

Ankle sprains are a very common sporting injury which can happen to people of all ages. A sprained ankle can occur when you roll your ankle and overstretch the ligaments. An ankle sprain causes pain, swelling and occasionally bruising due to the damaged caused to the ligaments. The pain is usually at its worst during the first few days.

How a Sprained Ankle Occurs

A sprained ankle can happen when more than the normal amount of force or movement is placed on the ligaments which support the ankle joint. The ankle has two joints, one is for bending the foot up and down while the other joint turns the foot in and out. Typically, it is the joint that turns the foot in and out that is sprained during an injury. This usually happens when the foot is in a pointed position (it’s least stable position), and the ankle rolls inwards. This causes the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle to become stretched and possibly tear if they are under enough strain.

The Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle

When the injury occurs, you will probably notice swelling, pain or bruising. There may also be a cracking or popping sound. Depending on how severe the sprain is, you may have trouble standing or walking on the injured foot. In more severe cases, there could be a deep sharp pain in the ankle joint or a pain between your lower shin bones.

Diagnosing a Sprained Ankle

An experienced physiotherapist is skilled in the assessment and diagnosis of sprained ankles. Your history will be taken into account and a thorough assessment will help to determine how severe the sprain is. You may be required to undergo an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to determine if there are any severe ligament or bone injuries present. Most of the time this is not necessary and a clinical assessment by an experienced physio is sufficient.

Sprained Ankle Treatment

Initially, the treatment of a sprained ankle involves controlling any swelling or pain that may be present. Physio for a sprained ankle may involve the use of taping or an air splint to protect and immobilise the ankle joint, and crutches may also be needed in more severe cases. Resting the joint is necessary to aid the healing process and ice will usually be used initially to reduce pain and swelling.

As the pain begins to ease your physiotherapist may begin to prescribe exercises and encourage increased weight bearing on the ankle. Rehabilitation is an important part of treating a sprained ankle. Strengthening the local muscles will help to protect the injured joint. The aim of physio for a sprained ankle is to gain back full function and strength to the affected ankle. Often the reaction timing and coordination of the ankle muscles becomes inadequate following an injury and specific rehabilitation is usually needed to prevent re-injury down the track.

Sprained ankle treatment and recovery time will vary depending on the severity of the injury. It may take anywhere from two to six weeks to recover. Very serious injuries may even take several months to rehabilitate or might require surgery prior to rehabilitation. Your physio will provide their expertise to optimise healing and direct rehabilitation specific to your injury. As the pain gradually settles after the first few days, you will be able to increase your activity level under the guidance of an experienced physiotherapist.