Our ankles serve one of the most important roles of any of the body’s joints by supporting the weight of our entire body. With such a heavy task at hand, the ankles are also one of the most frequently injured regions, and ankle sprains are at the top of that list.
Ankle sprains result from the stretching or tearing of ligaments in the ankle and usually lead to some degree of pain, swelling, and tenderness. They are the most common injury in the athletic population, accounting for approximately 45% of all sports injuries. They are most frequently seen in basketball, football, and soccer, but can occur during any sport or activity when the ankle moves beyond its normal range of motion.
Ankle Sprains Usually Heal Quickly
Fortunately, the pain from ankle sprains will typically subside after 4-6 weeks if the patient follows the RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and does not aggravate the injury further. But if the ankle sprain is not properly rehabilitated, it can lead to decreased range of motion of the ankle joint, particularly a loss of dorsiflexion motion (raising the foot upwards). This can lead to not only recurring ankle sprains, but excess stress on the knees, hips, and even the lower back, which may all be forced to overcompensate for the bad ankle in order to allow the body to move normally.
Physical Therapy Can Help in More Ways than One
For patients that do fail to recover properly from an ankle sprain and go on to experience additional sprains or other injuries, physical therapy can help prevent the problem from getting any worse with a targeted treatment program that typically includes:
- Stretching exercises to restore ankle movement
- Strengthening exercises to help patients regain strength and prevent long-term ankle disability
- Balance training to improve stability and help patients to learn to deal with any potential hazards
- Functional training, which consists of performing activities patients might have difficulty with like walking, running, or jumping
Prevention Should Be Part of Your Plan
But taking it a step further, physical therapy can also help individuals prevent a first ankle sprain from occurring altogether with a similar type of program designed specifically to prepare the ankle for increased stress loads. Athletes involved in some of the high-risk sports mentioned particularly stand to benefit from these types of program, which have been supported by research as effective for reducing the risk for ankle sprains. One study published in 2017 evaluated the effectiveness of proprioceptive exercises (which improve ones sense of where their body is in space) for preventing ankle sprains, and concluded:
Proprioceptive training programs were effective in reducing the incidence rates of ankle sprains in the athletic population, including those with and those without a history of ankle sprains
So if you’re concerned with your risk for ankle sprains and would like to reduce it, or if you’ve already suffered from a sprain and would like it to be your last, take action now by connecting with a physical therapist and addressing you risk head-on.