I sprained my ankle. Now what? Should I use an ankle brace, rest, do light exercise? Ankle sprains are very common injuries that affect people of all ages. The most common type of ankle sprain is a lateral ankle sprain. This results in pain on the outside of your ankle and can occur when you “roll” your ankle or it turns inwards. This can occur from landing improperly when coming down from a jump, missing a step, stepping on uneven ground, and several other ways.
An ankle sprain is when the ligaments that support your ankle are stretched to varying degrees. A more severe sprain can result in a complete tear of the ligament and can weaken your ankle. There may be swelling, difficulty walking, and even bruising in the ankle. Often a sprain can be managed at home, but if you are unable to place any weight on your leg, it is best to consult with your doctor. A physical therapist can also evaluate your ankle and history to create a plan to get you back to what is important to you.
Risk factors for an ankle sprain include being female, having weak hip musculature, poor balance, and participating in court sports. For individuals with these risk factors, research has found it is beneficial to use prophylactic ankle bracing to prevent injury.
Following an ankle sprain, further sprains can be prevented with bracing and exercises. Exercises should focus on balance and any areas that were identified as weak during an evaluation. Exercises will also work on improving the body’s awareness of where the ankle is in space as well as working to strengthen any weak muscles.
After an acute ankle injury, research recommends using bracing or tape to support the ankle. If unable to walk without help, crutches or another assistive device can be used to gradually increase the amount of weight tolerated while walking. You may have heard of R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). This is generally recommended for ankle sprains immediately after the injury.
Ice and compression are beneficial, especially in the first 24-72 hours to aid in pain management and swelling. When swelling is present, it is also beneficial to elevate your ankle to draw out fluid.
Research has found that rather than complete rest, protected motion within a pain-free range has a benefit for aiding in recovery. Once beyond the acute phase of injury, structured exercises, including range of motion, stretching, balance, and strengthening are beneficial. For those who participate in sports or occupations requiring a lot of weight bearing, utilizing a brace and a schedule to return to sport/work is beneficial. Manual therapy from a physical therapist (such as massage and joint mobilization) has been found to aid in normalizing the joint’s motion to help with pain and walking.
If you have experienced a sprained ankle and are unsure what to do, schedule an evaluation with one of our therapists today. They will perform a thorough evaluation and create a plan to help get you back on your feet and prevent future sprains.
Martin RL, Davenport TE, Fraser JJ, et al. Ankle Stability and Movement Coordination Impairments: Lateral Ankle Ligament Sprains Revision 2021. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2021;51(4):CPG1-CPG80. doi:10.2519/jospt.2021.0302