Ankle sprains can happen to anyone. Sure, athletes who spend a lot of time running and jumping are vulnerable, but everyday individuals can experience ankle sprains while carrying out routine activities. Stepping off a curb incorrectly, stumbling while doing yard work, or other occasions when you unexpectedly meet uneven terrain can result in an ankle sprain. The good news is that this injury rarely requires surgery. Patients can recover quickly with the right treatment.
What usually happens when you sprain your ankle is that the ankle rolls inward, tearing the anterior talofibular ligament. Physical therapists classify ankle sprains in one of three categories depending on the level of trauma the ligament sustains.
A Grade 1 sprain is a mild sprain that will heal on its own. You can walk it off, and it exhibits little to no swelling. Ice and rest are recommended to ensure a full recovery, which tends to occur within a week.
A Grade 2 sprain usually exhibits bruising as well as swelling immediately after the injury takes place. A Grade 3 sprain presents a higher degree of swelling and bruising and results in difficulty walking. A physical therapist can determine the extent of the injury through a routine examination of the ankle.
The treatment for a Grade 2 or 3 ankle sprain is first to decrease the swelling through what we call “PRICE,” an acronym that stands for Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Once the swelling subsides, we focus on restoring movement to the ankle through manual therapy to the ankle joint. We also have patients perform specific isolated exercises that build flexibility. A common exercise is to have patients “draw” the alphabet with the big toe of the affected foot while sitting in a resting position.
As we see improvement in the movement of the ankle, we focus on restoring strength to the area by exercising the surrounding musculature. We also work to restore balance – a very important function of the ankle. Think about it. Your ankles are constantly working to help your body adjust to uneven surfaces as you move throughout the day. We work to restore this sense of balance by having patients perform proprioceptive exercises, or exercises that help the body understand where it is in relation to its environment.
Generally, patients can make a full recovery from an ankle sprain within two to four weeks.