Ankle Sprains: Sprained ankle treatment and recovery time

Ankle sprains are a common injury in the lower limb. They are usually associated with a loss of balance on an unsteady surface and are unfortunately a common injury in many sports such as netball, soccer and tennis. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, bruising, weakness and an inability to bear weight on the affected side. In more severe cases, numbness and foot deformities may be present.

The main mechanism of an ankle sprain is when the foot rolls inwards i.e. a “rolled ankle”, meaning the sole of the foot faces upwards and the ligaments on the outside of the ankle are affected. There are other types of ankle sprains such as a high ankle sprain, which is when the foot rolls outwards and is usually associated with a fall from a height, an eversion sprain and a low ankle sprain. You may also experience a ligament sprain.

Jump to: How to treat a sprained ankle

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Ankle injuries may also result in a strain as well as a sprain where the muscle or tendon is also affected. It is important to get any ankle injury seen to as soon as possible by a professional who specialises in these injuries. 

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Recovery from an ankle sprain depends on many factors, including the grade of injury to the ligaments, if any other structures have been affected and how the patients responds to their rehabilitation exercises.

Ankle sprains are assessed as either a Grade 1, 2 or 3.

Grade 1

A Grade 1 injury to the affected ligament is when it has been stretched, but there is no tear and only mild laxity. The patient may experience mild pain and swelling, as well as some difficulty to bear weight. Recovery usually takes 1-2 weeks.

Grade 2

A Grade 2 injury to the affected ligament is when there is a partial rupture and moderate laxity. The patient normally experiences more pain and swelling compared to a Grade 1 injury and may find that they need to use crutches to mobilise. They may also have slight bruising around the affected area. Recovery usually takes 4-6 weeks.

Grade 3

A Grade 3 injury to the affected ligament is when there is a full rupture and substantial laxity. The patient may not experience as much pain compared to a Grade 2 injury, but they will normally experience swelling, bruising and an inability to bear weight. Immobilisation in a moon boot is important to help with the healing process. Some patients may require surgery if conservative management fails to heal the ligament. If treated conservatively, recovery may take up to 3 months.
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How to treat a sprained ankle

  • Always use ice in the first 72 hours as this aids in reducing muscle spasm and pain, and get your ankle assessed by a physiotherapist.
  • They will protect the joint with the use of taping, or use an air splint to immobilise the joint. Taping or the use of an air splint will give compression to the area which controls swelling and edema. Elevation during periods of rest is also recommended so that swelling is controlled and healing is promoted,further reducing the recovery time.
  • Crutches may be recommended, and if they are, your physio will teach you how to use them properly. Partial weight bearing helps to rest the joint and resting helps the healing process and by extension recovery time is shortened.
  • As the pain reduces, exercises can begin and weight bearing will be increased. Proprioceptive exercises that improve the sensations in the joint and improve balance and stability are essential. Strengthening exercises are also given to help the muscles protect the affected joint. The aim of physiotherapy treatment is to get you back to full function and strength.
  • Generally speaking the recovery time for a sprained ankle will be 2 to 3 weeks for a grade 1 strain, 4 to 6 weeks for a grade 2 strain and for a grade 3 strain the probability of surgery is high, with a grossly unstable joint. The recovery for this is in the order of 3 to 6 months.
  • Remember that physiotherapists are the practitioner of choice for ankle sprains and the sooner you make an appointment after the incident the better your results will be. To make an appointment with one of our Physiotherapy movement specialists call 32781186 or book an appointment online.

If you believe you have fractured your ankle due to your sprain, you should go straight to hospital. If not, you should see a physiotherapist as soon as possible. A physiotherapist will assess your ankle to determine what grade of injury you have had and to what ligaments. They will also assess other structures around the ankle such as the muscles, tendons, joints and nerves to see if any other structures have been affected. A physiotherapist can also refer you for imaging if they believe it is required. Initial rest, ice packs, compression, elevation and gentle ankle movements can help before you see your physiotherapist.

Physiotherapy treatment may include massage, joint mobilisation, compression, taping, moon boot fitting, crutches prescription, ice packs, home exercises and self-management strategies. It is important to follow through with your treatment plan – evidence shows that once you have rolled your ankle, your chances of rolling it again are very high. Your physiotherapist will ensure that they prescribe you with exercises to help reduce your risk of re-injury.

Graceville Physio have experienced clinicians who regularly treat ankle sprains. Give us a call on 3278 1186 to book an appointment or book online today.

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