Ankle sprains account for about 70% of all ankle injuries. They’re common. And they are painful, to say the least. They can also happen suddenly. You might have rolled your ankle on unstable ground or during a quick change in direction. Or perhaps when landing from a jump. Immediately, you feel pain. And unfortunately, this pain often tends to get in the way of your daily activities.
Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to treat an ankle sprain. However, treatment varies depending on the level of ankle sprain you have based on the signs and symptoms present. Let’s take a closer look!
What is an Ankle Sprain
A Sprain is a severe stretch, stress or tear of soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments. In the case of ankle sprain, the most commonly injured foot structure is the lateral Ligament Complex caused by an inversion sprain and can result in a partial or complete tear of the anterior talofibular (ATF) Ligament and often the calcaneofibular ligament.
Photo from: Meadowhead Physiotherapy
Ankle Sprains Are Graded According To Severity
Grade 1 -First Degree Sprain
This is the most common and least severe form. The ligaments are stretched but not torn. The ankle is still stable, and there is no loss of function.
Grade 2 - Second Degree Sprain
In grade 2 sprain there is a partial tearing of the ligament. Injury from the ligament would often result in decreased ankle joint mobility.
Grade 3 - Third Degree Sprain
Near complete or complete tear or avulsion of tissue with severe pain; Stress to the tissue is usually painful. Palpation may reveal the defect. A torn ligament results in instability of the joint. The ankle is unstable and may also include bone fractures.
Signs and Symptoms
Common signs and symptoms of an ankle sprain include:
- Pain, mostly when bearing weight on the affected foot
- Tenderness when touching the ankle
- Popping sensations
- Instability in the ankle
- Restricted range of motion
How To Treat Ankle Sprain
Seeking out proper treatment for your ankle sprain helps reduce pain, prevents chronic pain and instability, increases the range of motion, and prevents recurring injuries. Immediately after injury, use R.I.C.E. to treat the area. Rest your ankle, ice the area, compress the area, and elevate your leg.
Use the following guidelines - based on severity - to help guide your treatment strategy:
GRADE I level (MILD SPRAIN) - R.I.C.E. Guidelines
- Rest your ankle. Avoid walking on it, Limit weight bearing. Use crutches if necessary; if there is no fracture you are safe to put some weight on the leg. An ankle brace often helps control swelling and adds stability while the ligaments are healing.
- Ice or Cold Compress to keep down the swelling but remember not to put the ice directly on the skin. Use a thin piece of cloth such as a pillow case between the ice bag and the skin. Don't ice more than 20 minutes at a time to avoid frostbite.
- Compression can help control swelling as well as immobilise and support the injury.
- Elevate your foot to reduce pain and throbbing
Grade II Sprain (Moderate Sprain):
Follow the R.I.C.E. guidelines and allow more time for healing. A doctor may immobilize or splint your sprained ankle. Your doctor may recommend physiotherapy. A physiotherapist provides manual therapy to promote healing. They may also prescribe exercises to strengthen the affected area and improve flexibility.
Grade III Sprain (Severe Sprain):
This grade of ankle sprain puts you at risk for permanent ankle instability. Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair the damage - especially for professional athletes. For severe ankle sprains, your doctor may also consider treating you with a short leg cast for two to three weeks or a walking boot. People who sprain their ankle repeatedly may also need surgical repair to tighten their ligaments. Physiotherapy will likely be recommended to help strengthen the area, improve flexibility, and prevent future injury.
How To Avoid Ankle Sprains
Some people wear ankle braces when they practice sports to ensure that their ankle is stable and to prevent any movement that could cause damage to the ankle.
Strength and coordination exercises are further important for preventing chronic ankle instability. In order to reduce re-injury and to ensure a full recovery, these exercises typically need to be done for weeks or even months after injury.
Common exercises include training on a balance board or a balance pad, that helps perform a range of motion exercises, and ankle strengthening with the use of a resistance band. These exercises promote proper healing. They also help strengthen the area and stabilize the ankle - preventing an ankle sprain from happening in the future.
Learn More About Each of Ankle Sprain's Phases of Recovery and Treatment
Back To Sport products that can help you
Braces for Ankle Sprain
Wearing an ankle brace is a good idea when planning to get back to sport following an ankle injury. Make sure you choose a brace with a strong side support to prevent your ankle from rolling or twisting. The level of support you need will depend on the severity of your injury, as well as how far along you are in the process of recovery.
We recommend the ASO Classic (with Stays) black or white. This brace is designed with the active person in mind. It can help you get back to your sport while promoting proper healing of the injury. Further, it’s a good support if you have a higher ankle sprain. The Mueller The One ankle brace is also a good alternative as it provides a very solid support system to the ankle joint. The Meuller Adjustable Ankle Stabilizer is suitable for lower ankle sprains.
View All Ankle Braces
Cold Therapy Options
Icing is an essential part of treatment. You have several options when it comes to choosing an icing device. You can decide to use a standard hot/cold pack. However, it can difficult to keep these packs in place. You can also use a cold compression device, which will be wrapped around the ankle. This ensures that the cold pack is kept in place. It also adds slight compression, which is recommended in the treatment of ankle sprains.
If you often experience pain around the ankle or if you are suffering from a more severe sprain, we recommend going with an ice compression device.
Rehabilitation is a necessary part of the recovery process. It helps prevent future or further injury. It strengthens the muscles around the affected joint and helps regain stability.
There are multiple ways to help build strength around the ankle.
You can choose to work on a wobble board - a board that tips sideways. There are various balance and strengthening exercises that can be performed on these boards. Your physiotherapist may also recommend various exercises.
Earlier on in the recovery process, you can work with a balance pad. A balance pad is a foam pad on which you can perform stability exercises. As it won't have the amplitude of a balance board, the exercises will be more focused on stability rather than building muscle. It also poses an easier option to the balance board. It is an especially good option for more severe sprains. For milder sprains, try an air cushion or balance board. These items will target your muscles and balance further.
You can also use a resistance band, and practice exercises to improve stability around the ankle.
Click here to view all our resistance bands
The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The indications provided are not a prescription and cannot substitute the recommendation of a health practitioner. We recommend that you seek the advice of your GP, physiotherapist or health practitioner before buying any item on Back To Sport.