Rehab for Faster Ankle Sprain Recovery

Almost everyone has experienced an ankle injury, from a mild strain to major ligament damage. Most sports participants will remember a time when they sprained their ankles. Once the injury has occurred, patients want to recover as quickly as possible. There’s no clear consensus on exactly how to recover from an ankle injury, but there are some common themes. Learn about the basic steps of ankle injury rehabilitation and when you can resume your normal activities.

  1. “R.I.C.E.” Treatment

    The early treatment of a ankle sprain is the “RICE” method of treatment. This is focused on reducing ankle swelling and alleviating pain:

    Rest: The first 24-48 hours after the injury is considered a critical treatment period and activities need to be limited. Gradually put as much weight on the involved ankle as tolerated and discontinue crutch use when you can walk without a limp.

    Ice: Ice application is effective to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. While ice packs can be helpful, there are special ice wraps” that are made to mold to the joint.

    Compression: Use compression in the early phase of ankle sprain treatment. Using an Ace bandage, wrap the ankle from the toes all the way up to the top of the calf muscle, overlapping the elastic wrap by one-half of the width of the wrap. The wrap should be snug, but not cutting off circulation to the foot.

    Elevation: Keep your sprained ankle higher than your heart as often as possible. This can also help to dramatically reduce swelling. Keep in mind, propping your ankle on a chair while you are sitting up does not elevate above your heart!

  2. Range of Motion Exercises

    The first step toward recovery is to regain normal ankle mobility. Mobility can be limited by pain and swelling; therefore, in order to effectively treat restricted motion, try to address pain and swelling. After ankle injuries, range-of-motion activity should start as soon as possible. Rarely do injuries require immobilization (as in a cast or boot), since most injuries can be treated with early motion exercises. Check with your doctor to determine when it’s okay to start motion activities.

    The most frequently recommended active-motion activity is to “write” the alphabet in space with your big toe. Start with printing the alphabet, then try cursive. This simple activity will move your foot through all the basic ankle motions.

  3. Strengthening Exercises

    Once motion has been achieved and swelling and pain are reduced, you should start strengthening the ankle. Following an injury such as a sprain, the ankle will be weak and susceptible to reinjury. Ankle-strengthening exercises can help prevent reinjury and return you to normal activities.

    Basic strengthening activities include work with resistance bands, toe raises and lunges. Working with a physical therapist is often beneficial to allow the therapist to target specific muscles that may have been injured.

  4. Proprioceptive Training

    Proprioception is the word used to describe your body’s ability to sense the position of a joint. For example, when you close your eyes, you can feel the position of your body without necessarily looking to see the position of your body. Proprioception also helps control the position of your body. Good proprioceptive training can help prevent your ankle from getting into positions where sprains and injuries are more likely.
  5. Sport-Specific Activities

    The final stage of recovery from an ankle injury is to perform specific activities that mimic movements of your chosen sport. This may include drills aimed at cutting, pivoting or jumping. It is important to perform these activities in a simulated environment before returning to your normal sports activities.

    When you perform sport-specific drills, your body can prepare for the activity, the next cut or pivot, rather than having to suddenly react to an in-game event. These exercises allow your body to achieve the last stage of rehabilitation with less risk of re-injury. Unfortunately, many athletes neglect this step and return to sports too soon. This can have serious implications if the injury is not completely healed and the body is not ready for sports.

  6. Return to Full Activities

    While there is no clear consensus on the issue, most physicians agree that full activities can resume once the risk of re-injuring your ankle falls to what it was before the injury. In general, try to achieve the following goals before returning to your normal sports routine:

    No more swelling

    Normal joint motion

    Normal joint strength

    A team trainer or physician should ensure that any athlete is ready to return to his or her sporting activities.

  7. Surgery For Sprains

    Surgical treatment of an ankle sprain is seldom necessary. In most all people, including athletes, surgery is reserved for the few patients who despite appropriate treatment described above, have recurrent ankle instability and sprains.

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