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Ankle Sprains: Physical Therapy Guide

Ankle sprains are common injuries that occur when the foot twists or turns beyond its normal range of movement, causing the ligaments of the ankle to overstretch or tear. Of all sports injuries in the United States, 45% are ankle sprains. Physical therapists help people who have experienced ankle sprains reduce their pain, regain their strength, motion, and balance, return to normal activity levels and avoid re injury.

What is an Ankle Sprain?

Sprains are injuries to ligaments (the bands of tissue that hold joints together). Ankle sprains occur when the foot twists or turns beyond its normal range of movement, causing the ligaments connecting the bones of the leg, ankle, and foot to overstretch or tear.

The ligaments on the outer (lateral) side of the ankle are the ones most commonly injured. Ligaments on the inner (medial) side of the ankle, or above the ankle bone, can also be sprained, but are injured less frequently.

An ankle sprain usually takes between two weeks to two months to heal. The ankle will feel better after a few weeks, and be fully strengthened in a few months. A severely sprained ligament, however, can take nine months to one year to heal.

Symptoms of Ankle Sprains

Right after an ankle sprain, you may experience:

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Inability to stand or walk on the affected foot

  • Throbbing

  • Stiffness

  • Weakness

  • A feeling of instability in the ankle joint

Classification of Ankle Sprains

  • Grade 1 (mild) – the ligament is overstretched

  • Grade 2 (moderate) – the ligament is overstretched and partially torn

  • Grade 3 (severe) – the ligament is completely torn

How to Prevent Ankle Sprains?

Your physical therapist can recommend a home exercise program to help prevent ankle sprains.

Home exercises may include:

  • Strength

  • Flexibility

  • Balance exercises

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Physical therapists help people with ankle sprains recover more quickly than they would without treatment. The time it takes to heal an ankle sprain varies, but results can often be achieved in 2 to 8 weeks. Your physical therapist will work with you to:

  • Reduce pain and swelling

  • Improve motion

  • Improve flexibility

  • Improve strength

  • Improve endurance

  • Improve balance

  • Restore agility

  • Learn a home program

  • Return to activities

  • Speed recovery time


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