Ankle exercises and advice for recurrent ankle sprains
A sprain to the lateral or outside of the ankle is an injury that is very common in change of direction sports and activities
Although ankle injuries can be significant and lead to long term issues, it has been reported that only 50% of individuals who suffer a lateral ankle sprain seek the advice of a health professional.
An unfortunate long term effect of lateral ankle sprains is Chronic Ankle Instability where the joint experiences persistent pain, swelling and giving way of the ankle for at least 12 months after the initial ankle sprain.
This leads to recurrent sprains of the ankle joint and if not managed appropriately, these chronic changes can lead to further joint disruption resulting in arthritis which may be even more persistent. Doing ankle exercises as a part of your recovery and return back to sport are a must.
In the following guidelines, you will learn the best course of action once you experience an ankle sprain and the steps that can be undertaken to reduce the likelihood of long term issues plaguing your ankle joint.
Identify The Risks
The best form of treatment is prevention! If we can identify factors which may predispose someone to an ankle sprain, we can go a long way to prevent the sprain from occurring in the first place. Poor balance and control whilst standing on one foot in combination with a stiff joint may increase the risk of sustaining an ankle sprain. An experienced Physio can guide you on appropriate exercises. To develop better balance, control and range of motion.
Diagnose the Sprain
In the unfortunate event of a sprain occurring, it is important to accurately diagnose the extent of the injury. This will ensure that your potentially severe injuries including fractures of the ankle and foot bones are detected. If there are no fractures evident, the sprain will be graded according to the severity of the damage that has been caused to the ligaments and surrounding structures. In general, ankle sprains are classified into three grades. These grades also have an estimated time to return to sport and activity:
- Mild Sprain Grade I – 1-3 weeks
- Moderate Sprain/Ligament Tear Grade II – 3-6 weeks
- Severe Sprain/Ligament Rupture Grade III – 6-12 weeks
Following an ankle sprain, pain decreases quickly within the first two weeks as the swelling associated with the soft tissue damage reduces. Ice and compression in the early days following the injury are a well established first line treatment method for management of ankle sprains. However, ice and compression alone is not enough to effectively manage and ankle sprain. In combination with ice and compression, exercise significantly improves the function of the ankle in the short term. An experienced Physio can guide you through the appropriate exercises. Also they can assist you with getting your ankle joint moving in the early days following your ankle sprain.
Weight bearing and early walking is important to restore normal movement of the ankle as soon as practicable. Provided there are no fractures, walking on the joint is advised with support. Taping and bracing have been shown to be preferred methods of providing support for the injured joint to help encourage walking. In the past, immobilisation boots have been used. But, these tend to increase stiffness of the joint and are now only used for severe sprains and fractures of the ankle.
The most important component of the management of an ankle sprain is the rehabilitation exercises. The exercise program, correctly prescribed, will be what accelerates the recovery time. It also reduces the likelihood of a recurrence of the injury which as mentioned previously, can lead to long term joint issues.
Your experienced Physiotherapist will prescribe a series of exercises which aim to address the following aspects of joint function:
-Proprioception (balance)- eg Standing on One Leg with your Eyes Closed
-Strength – eg Pushing up on your tippy-toes
-Coordination- eg Landing from a step or box on foot
-Function- Sport or activity specific tasks- eg Running, Kicking
See our other posts and video’s of ankle exercises:
As mentioned previously, Prevention is better than cure! Following an acute ankle sprain, the risk of having a subsequent sprain is increased. The exercise program as prescribed by an experienced Physiotherapist will aim to reduce this re-injury risk and occurrence. Another way a Physiotherapist can assist with prevention of recurrent sprains is by providing you with some support of the ankle joint.
Taping of the joint is great for training’s and games and the taping technique can be taught so that you or a loved one can do this effectively. Another option is to use an ankle brace which provides great support to the joint during activity. And it doesn’t require much time or assistance to apply. Your Physiotherapist can guide you on the most appropriate support for you. Generally, following an ankle sprain, support is required for 12 months after the initial injury.
Ankle sprains are a common injury associated with sport and activity. Generally an initial ankle sprain will settle quickly and with appropriate management return to activity can be achieved within weeks. Reducing the occurrence of subsequent sprains will help to prevent the development of long term joint issues including arthritis.
Under the guidance of an experienced myPhysioSA Physiotherapist, your ankle sprain can be managed effectively. They will have you returning to the activities you love. And will ensure your ankle doesn’t cause you long term issues.
Written by Ryan Florence-Rieniets, Sports Physiotherapist at myPhysioSA at SPARC, Mile End, Adelaide. Ryan is an experienced Sports Physio who regularly manages athletes ankle injuries. He is known for his ankle exercises prescription and rehab programs for faster return back to sport.