Ankle Sprains: Sprained ankle treatment and recovery time

Ankle sprains are a common type of injury in the lower limb.

There are many ligaments that hold the different bones in the ankle joint together. An ankle sprain can comprise of  damage to one or more of these ligaments. The most common ankle injury/sprain occurs when the foot rolls inwards, so that the sole of the foot faces upwards.

This ankle injury is common in running sports, like rugby, soccer, athletics, triathlons, court sports such as netball, basketball, tennis and all dance and gymnastic type sports and results in lateral ligament damage. The average healing time for an ankle sprain is 2-3 weeks, or longer for more severe injuries.

Other ankle sprains occur when the foot is forced to roll out resulting in a medial ligament sprain. These are a little less common than the lateral ligament sprains.

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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Evidence shows that sprained ankle recovery time is decreased and patients will recover better and quicker if seen by a physiotherapist within the first day or two of injury. Prior to the physiotherapy appointment it is necessary to ice the ankle every two hours for 20 mins, rest and elevate the ankle and put some form of compression on the joint  like a bandage.

This is referred to as the RICE regime. This directly affects how long it takes for a sprained ankle to heal.

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

Grade 1

A grade 1 sprain will involve stretching of the affected ligament but no instability. There is some pain and swelling and walking can be painful.

Grade 2

A grade 2 sprain will involve more stretching of the ligaments, some instability, pain, stiffness and pain on walking. These types of ankle sprains often require the use of crutches for a few days at least.

Grade 3

A grade 3 sprain results in complete rupture of the ligament, gross instability of the joint, severe pain in the beginning and a lot of swelling. These sprains tend to become less painful quickly as the ligament is completely ruptured and therefore less painful.It is important to correctly assess the grade of injury to determine the recovery time for the sprained ankle.
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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.
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