Ankle sprains are one of the most common types of injuries for people who are active. Current evidence suggests that almost two-thirds of individuals who have sustained an ankle sprain do not seek medical treatment. An ankle sprain is defined as an injury or overstretching of one or more of the ligaments that provide support for your ankle. It is common to have a rapid reduction in pain within the first couple of weeks following an ankle sprain. Therefore, people often return to their prior level of activity before seeking treatment. Unfortunately, studies show that it can take at least 6-12 weeks for the ligament to heal properly, possibly longer depending on the severity of the sprain.
Considering so many decide to forego rest and treatment, it is not surprising that studies show up to 40 percent of individuals who have sustained an ankle sprain will develop chronic ankle instability. Chronic ankle instability is characterized by persistent pain, recurrent ankle sprains, feeling of “giving way,” and swelling. These long-term effects may increase the risk of developing arthritis in the ankle. The same studies concluded that those who seek treatment have better function and less chance of re-injury than those who did not.
Historically, treatment for ankle sprains has focused on the R.I.C.E principle (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Newer evidence suggests that better treatment involves a more limited period of rest and immobilization. After that, moving the ankle early, supporting it, manual therapy and balance training are all key components of proper recovery. Balance training is especially important, as it helps restore the body’s awareness of the ankle joint position, improves muscle reaction time and functional outcome scores and decreases the rate of re-injury. A physical therapist with a solid understanding of these concepts understands how to appropriately treat each individual sprain and get someone back their favorite activities in a safe and timely manner.