How to Treat an Ankle Sprain

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Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments that attach your bones stretch or tear. They can be mild or extreme, depending on how much deterioration has happened.

If you sprain your ankle, follow the RICE treatment protocol (rest, ice, compression and elevation). You may start physical therapy when you can walk without pain.

Common Mistakes

Injuries to the ankle joint are among the most common musculoskeletal injuries and can happen to anyone, from youth athletes to weekend warriors. While it’s easy to assume that ankle sprains aren’t serious, they can quickly lead to more severe complications if left untreated.

Sprained ankles typically heal independently if a home care plan is followed and should resolve in 2-4 weeks. However, a Grade II sprain may require medical direction and could take 6-8 weeks to heal completely.

During recovery, many people make the mistake of returning to activity before their ankle has fully healed. The injury can result in stiffness, swelling and even early arthritis.

Improve Ankle Strength

If you have a sprained ankle, starting a rehabilitation program as soon as possible after the injury is essential. It will help to improve your ankle strength and control, which can be crucial for maintaining good balance and posture.

Your rehab plan may include stretching exercises and strengthening activities targeting different ankle areas. Your specialist will also design a personalized program for you, which is based on your age, activity level and other factors.

Stretching the Achilles tendon, which connects the muscle on the back of your lower leg to the heel bone (the calcaneus), can help reduce pain and swelling. Stand facing a wall and bend the front knee while keeping the heel of the healed leg flat on the floor, holding this position for 15 to 30 seconds.

Resistance exercise with a thick elastic band called a Theraband can also strengthen the muscles around your ankle. Secure one end of the resistance band to a table and loop the other end around the injured foot, holding it gently taut. Performing this exercise 10 times is typically enough to strengthen the muscle.

Stability

The ankle joint’s stability depends on several ligaments that connect bones and tendons. These include the anterior talofibular ligament, calcaneofibular ligament, and deltoid ligament.

Ligaments can occasionally become injured due to repetitive strain, called chronic instability. It can lead to recurrent injuries and pain in the ankle joint. In most cases, ankle sprains heal without surgery if they are immobilized and rehabilitated correctly. However, surgery may be recommended if the injury is severe and does not respond to treatment.

A 22-year-old male basketball player sprained his ankle six months ago. It felt good right after it happened, but it has never fully healed and is still limiting him when he plays sports.

Rest and Recovery

Physicians recommend rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) guidelines for ankle sprains. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and pain gels can also help reduce swelling and discomfort.

A physical therapist can recommend the most effective treatment for an individual’s injury and recovery needs. A supervised, specific program can speed up recovery, increase strength and stability in the affected ankle, improve balance and proprioception, and prevent re-injury.

The first few days after an ankle sprain are crucial. Doctors recommend not participating in sports or everyday activities until the injured area is healed.

For a moderate to a severe ankle sprain, crutches may be prescribed. Elevating the affected area higher than your heart and using an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours will decrease swelling and ease pain. If symptoms do not subside after 72 hours, a physician may prescribe heat therapy. Household tasks such as washing dishes or cleaning the home can be complex for a few weeks, but an in-home aide can assist.

 

Following these steps is essential and allowing your ankle to heal properly to prevent long-term problems like chronic ankle instability.