The ankle joint has three bones that are precisely shaped to interlock and give stability. Strong bands of connective tissue called ligaments reinforce the joint and help hold the bones together. These ligaments prevent too much movement of the joint.
A sudden movement or twist, often when the foot rolls in, can overstretch the supporting ligaments, causing ligament tears and bleeding around the joint. This is known as an ankle sprain.
This is a common injury, particularly in activities that require running, jumping and change of direction (such as basketball and netball).
Symptoms of Ankle Sprain
Swelling – the ankle can swell in minutes or over several hours.
Bruising – over the area of injury.
Pain – when trying to move the ankle joint and when walking, especially when the knee goes forward over the foot.
In more severe injuries there may be associated bone injury and it is wise to get an x-ray to determine whether there is a fracture.
First Aid for Ankle Sprains
Stop your activity and rest the injured joint. Use icepacks every two hours, applied for 15-20 minutes. Bandage the joint firmly, and extend the wrapping up the calf and down the foot. Raise the ankle above heart height whenever possible, preferably lying down.
Avoid exercise, heat, alcohol and massage in the first 48 hours after injury, as these can all exacerbate swelling. See your APA physiotherapist if your ankle injury does not settle in a day or two.
Recurring Ankle Sprains
Some people suffer from recurring ankle sprains. This can be caused by a number of factors working in combination, including:
Ligament Scarring – and excessive looseness, as a result of previous ankle sprains;
Insufficient Rehabilitation – leading to weak muscles around the ankle joint;
Proprioceptive Deficit – decreased capacity to judge where your foot is in relation to your leg – this can be resolved with appropriate physiotherapy.
Rehabilitation & Support
If the pain from a sprained ankle that you are managing yourself has not improved after a day or so, it is best to seek the advice of your physiotherapist.
Ankle sprains need thorough investigation and rehabilitation. As experts in functional movement, physiotherapists are ideally placed to assess and treat these common injuries.
Physiotherapy treatments may include:
Exercises to strengthen all muscles surrounding & related to the ankle;
Advice on taping and ankle braces for use during activity, if required;
The use of a wobble board or trampoline, and other exercises, to encourage balance and improve the proprioceptive deficit;
Exercise programs to improve mobility of the joint, as necessary.