What is an Ankle Sprain?
Ankle sprains are the most common soft tissue injury, and the second body part most likely to be injured during sports.
A sprained ankle is an injury that happens when the ligament(s) in your ankle overstretches or tears (either partially or completely) by rolling, twisting, or turning your ankle in an awkward way.
It is not to be confused with a strain, which is when your muscle or tendon is twisted, pulled, stretched, or torn.
Ligaments are short, tough bands of fibrous connective tissue that connect two bones together around joints all over your body. Your ankle ligaments help hold your ankle joint in place and limit or prevent certain movements. When these ligaments are forced beyond their normal range of motion, a sprain occurs.
Since ligaments do not receive much blood flow, they are slower to heal than other types of soft tissue, like tendons.
What Causes an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain is caused when you overextend or move your ankle beyond its normal range of motion, such as from a sudden or severe twist.
Common causes of ankle sprains include:
- Walking, running, or jogging on an uneven surface
- Turing sharply or pivoting during sports
- A direct hit to the ankle joint
- A fall that causes your ankle to twist, or tripping over something
- Landing awkwardly on your foot
- Previous ankle sprain or injury
- Weakness or inflexibility in the ankles
- Wearing improper footwear
- Incorrect technique or training in sports
Athletes in particular are at risk for suffering ankle sprains because sports that involve jumping, repeated hard landings, and cutting side to side are most prone to inward ankle rolls.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of an Ankle Sprain?
There are three different degrees of ankle sprains that range in severity from mild to severe.
First-degree sprain (Mild)
In a first-degree sprain, the fibres of the ligament are stretched and may tear slightly. The ligament is still intact, and your ankle joint will feel stable, but you might have swelling and pain.
Second-degree sprain (Moderate)
In a second-degree sprain, the ligament fibres are partially torn but still intact. The ankle joint will be tender and swollen and feel loose.
Third-degree sprain (Severe)
In a third-degree sprain, the fibres of the ligament are completely torn (known as a rupture). This level of sprain can feel like a broken bone as it will be nearly impossible to put any weight on your ankle. An X-ray would most likely be taken in this case to rule out a break.
Depending on the severity of your ankle sprain, you may feel a variety of symptoms, including:
- Tenderness when you touch your ankle
- Looseness or instability in your ankle
- Decreased range of motion or inability to move your ankle, making you limp
- Hearing or feeling a “pop” during the injury
How is an Ankle Sprain Treated?
If your sprain is mild, you can ease your symptoms at home using the RICE protocol:
- Rest your ankle for 24-48 hours, avoiding activities that could further injure or aggravate it (you may need to use crutches for a few days)
- Ice your ankle 3-4 times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time
- Compression is used to control swelling by applying a compression bandage
- Elevation of your ankle above the level of your heart to help relieve swelling
You can also take anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol), to help ease your pain.
If your ankle sprain symptoms do not improve with these at-home remedies, you may want to consult a pt Health physiotherapist for a custom treatment plan to address your unique concerns.
Treatment for more serious ankle sprains typically include:
- A cast or walking boot to immobilize the foot while the ligament(s) heals
- Surgery – while surgery is rare, if it is necessary after other less invasive treatments have not helped, physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation
Physiotherapy for an Ankle Sprain
Physiotherapy is a drug-free and non-surgical treatment that focuses on reducing pain and swelling, regaining strength, increasing joint mobility and function, and preventing recurrence.
At pt Health, you’ll receive a thorough assessment which addresses the source of your problem.
Depending on the severity of your ankle sprain and your individual needs, physiotherapy can include:
- Ice therapy
- Ultrasound therapy
- Activity modifications
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
- Range of motion and flexibility exercises
- Balance and control exercises
- Personalized exercise plan
- Patient education including return to work or sport recommendations
- Taping or bracing
- Cross-disciplinary pain-relieving therapies such as:
Are you seeking physiotherapy for an ankle sprain? Book an assessment today.
Can an Ankle Sprain Go Away on Its Own?
Yes and no.
While an ankle sprain can get better on its own using the at-home remedies mentioned above, people who have suffered an ankle sprain are 70-80% more likely to sprain the same ligament again. This is because the ligament is weakened during a sprain.
If you heal improperly, or if you engage in aggravating activities too soon after spraining your ankle, the ligaments will be permanently stretched.
Physiotherapy can help you heal correctly, as well as give you individualized tools to properly exercise and strengthen your ankle, reducing the chances of re-spraining your ankle and developing ankle arthritis in the future.
Can You Prevent an Ankle Sprain?
Yes. The best way to prevent an ankle sprain is to keep yourself in good physical condition.
Stretching and strengthening exercises should be done regularly as part of an overall fitness plan. If you play sports or have a physically demanding job, speak to a physiotherapist about the best exercises for your activities.
Other steps you can take to prevent or reduce the chance of spraining your ankle include:
- Warming up before exercise
- Stretching after exercise
- Practicing good posture
- Practicing proper technique in sport
- Wearing orthotics and proper shoes for your activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight (which reduces pressure on the ankle joint)
Book a Physiotherapy Consult for an Ankle Sprain Today
Concerned about symptoms of an ankle sprain? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.