Ankle sprains are a common injury in sports settings and normally occur when you roll, twist or turn your ankle, especially on uneven ground. Ankle sprains can range from a mild strain that over stretches the ligaments around the ankle to a complete rupture or tear of the ligament potentially involving a fracture.
Ligaments are strong, fibrous connective tissue that connect bones to each other and stabilise joints by limiting their movement. When you roll your ankle too far, the ligament can overstretch and tear, resulting in what we know as an ankle sprain.
The history or mechanism of your sprain is important to determine the severity of ligament damage. Often, the ability to put weight on your foot and walk immediately following a sprain may mean a lower grade of sprain. If you are unable to weight bear, your physiotherapist may provide you with crutches and may send you for further investigation to determine the degree of sprain and if any bone was broken in the process. In these cases, you may require a longer time on crutches or a moon boot to stabilise the ankle and let the ligament heel.
Typically, an ankle sprain can take 6-12 weeks to fully heal. Recovery time greatly depends on the severity of sprain and ligament damage. Early ankle sprain management should include RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and your physiotherapist will normally discuss a treatment plan including soft tissue work and joint mobilisation to reduce pain levels and promote ankle movement.
Rehabilitation is an integral part of recovery following an ankle sprain. This is focused on retraining ankle and lower limb postural control and stability, balance rehabilitation and regaining ankle strength and conditioning including agility training and sports specific drills for return to exercise. Without proper rehabilitation, our ligaments may not work effectively or efficiently to stabilise the joints and minimise their movements, leading to an increase risk of recurrent and repetitive ankle sprains.
Two examples of balance rehabilitation exercises post ankle sprain are:
- Standing on one leg for 30 seconds with your eyes closed.
- Standing on one leg and throw and catch a ball, maintaining your balance throughout.