Ankle Sprains - More Than Just a Twist
Updated: Aug 15
At some point in their lives, most people will experience the discomfort of an ankle sprain. Recognised as one of the most common sports-related injuries, ankle sprains frequently lead people to seek the expert advice of physiotherapists and podiatrists. Although often brushed off as just a minor injury, if not addressed properly, ankle sprains can lead to more severe and ongoing issues.
What Is An Ankle Sprain?
The term ankle sprain most commonly refers to a lateral ankle sprain. This occurs when the foot inadvertently rolls inward, putting immense strain on the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. When these ligaments are overstretched, they can sustain damage or even completely rupture. Based on the severity, ankle sprains are classified into three grades:
Grade 1: A minor tear in the ligaments. Symptoms include swelling and mild pain.
Grade 2: Partial thickness tears in the ligaments. This leads to moderate pain, noticeable swelling, and a decrease in the stability of the ankle during certain movements.
Grade 3: This involves a complete rupture of the ligaments, resulting in pronounced instability in the ankle.
Many people will be familiar with a Grade 1 ankle sprain, often a result of stepping on uneven terrain or having a misstep during footy or netball. However ankle sprains, especially if left untreated, can cause chronic pain and instability.
Why Proper Rehabilitation Is Vital For An Ankle Sprain?
The idea of “walking it off” doesn’t hold up when it comes to ankle sprains. Ligaments that aren’t rehabilitated risk improper healing, ongoing fragility, and a heightened chance of recurrent sprains.
Your ankle's ligaments play a pivotal role in proprioception - a fancy term meaning the brain's ability to detect where a limb is positioned in space. Compromised proprioception can lead to recurrent sprains, as the foot and ankle are more likely to re-enter a position that overstrains the ligaments. If your ligaments have already been stretched and weakened, this can lead to an even more serious ankle sprain next time.
Rehabilitating An Ankle Sprain
The grade of the sprain typically determines the recovery process, but with the right care and attention, even Grade 3 sprains can heal without the need for surgical intervention. A typical rehabilitation process would involve:
First 48-72 hours: Embrace the RICE principles (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) to manage pain and inflammation.
Gradual Weight Bearing: As soon as you can bear it, start putting weight on the affected ankle. If it's too painful, crutches can help you gradually reintroduce weight.
Active Movement: As soon as the pain subsides, begin active range of motion exercises. This ensures the joint remains supple and avoids stiffness. These include gently pulling back and planting your foot and gentle rotations of your foot. This works to ensure the joint stays mobile and does not become stiff.
Strength and Stability: Work on strengthening exercises. Your podiatrist will guide you on specific exercises like resistance bands targeting the outer leg muscles which can help improve stability.
Improving Proprioception: Proprioception can be improved by testing the foot on a range of uneven surfaces. Start with simple exercises like standing on one foot (you will likely find the injured side is much less stable), progressing to uneven surfaces, then to advanced exercises such as squats on a Bosu ball.
By dedicating time to proper rehabilitation, you can significantly reduce the chance of future ankle injuries. Your podiatrist can also advise you on the best footwear and assess any foot postural issues that might be increasing your risk of sprains.
If you've had a recent tumble and suspect an ankle sprain or if you're battling ongoing ankle pain from a previous injury, don't hesitate to reach out. Give the friendly team at My Family Podiatry a ring on 07 3088 6116 or book a consultation through the button below to ensure your ankle is on the right track to recovery!