What is an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain refers to the torn ligaments of the ankle. The most common ankle sprain occurs on the lateral, or outside, part of the ankle. This is an extremely common injury which can affect people at any activity level. It can happen in the setting of an ankle fracture and most commonly it occurs in isolation. A typical treatment plan will include the help of a physical therapist to aid in recovery and monitor the patient’s progress.
Risk Factors for an Ankle Sprain
Risk factors are those activities, such as basketball and jumping sports, in which an athlete can come down on, and turn the ankle or step on an opponent’s foot.
Those who have weak muscles, especially those called the peroneals, which run along the outside of the ankle, may be more predisposed. Ankle instability is a major risk factor for an ankle sprain. Those who have had a severe sprain in the past are more susceptible to a repeat injury.
Some people are predisposed to ankle sprains. For people with a hindfoot varus, meaning the general nature or posture of the heels is slightly turned inward, these injuries are more common.
How is an Ankle Sprain Treated?
Surgery is not required in the vast majority of ankle sprains; even with severe sprains, ligaments will heal without surgery. When the injury occurs, it is best to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist to determine the severity of the sprain. Sprains are traditionally classified into several grades, which dictate the treatment plan. The healing process is also dependent on the patient’s ability to bear weight Those that can bear weight, even after the injury, are likely to return very quickly to play. Those who cannot walk may need to be immobilized.
Treatment in the first 48 to 72 hours consists of:
- Resting the ankle
- Icing the injury for 20 minutes every two to three hours
- Compressing with an ACE wrap
- Elevating, which means positioning the leg and ankle so that the toes are above the level of patient’s nose.
- The patients who cannot bear weight are better treated in a removable walking boot until they can comfortably bear weight.
An ankle brace can be used for an athlete until a therapist believes that the ankle is strong enough to return to play. Surgery is rarely indicated, but may be needed in a patient who has cartilage damage or other related injuries. Ligaments are only repaired or strengthened in cases of chronic instability in which the ligaments have healed, but not in a strong fashion.
Florida is a direct access state and does not require physician’s referral for evaluation and treatment by a physical therapist.