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What to Expect with Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries to the lower leg. 23,000 people on average will sprain their ankle each day in the United States. An ankle sprain can vary in its effect on one’s ability to move and continue in normal activities. Some sprains result in minor loss, while others can set people back over a month. Due to the high reoccurrence rates and potential long term problems, getting an ankle sprain treated appropriately could save countless problems down the road.

After one sprains his/her ankle, there is often pain, swelling, and tenderness walking. During the first two weeks, these symptoms typically improve rapidly. Depending on the extent of the injury, some people will be back to life as normal. Others, however, may continue to have problems down the road, especially if the ankle is not given enough time to heal well.

Just how many people will re-sprain their ankle? Since this is been studied often, multiple “answers exist”. Some studies show re-sprain rates as low as 3% while others as high as 54%. Despite the wide range of re-sprain rates, a previous sprain is one of the biggest risk factors for another sprain in the future.

Because ankle sprains are so common, many people think they are no big deal and will heal on their own. While it is true that many injuries will heal, there are some long-term deficits that often remain. The amount of people who reported pain a year following an ankle sprain ranges from 5-33% and 5-25% after 3 years.

Unfortunately, only one thing has been shown to increase the risk of having residual problems. People who train more than three times a week are at a high risk of having long term problems. This feeds into the concepts of adequate rest, natural healing times, and overtraining. Allowing the ankle to fully heal and avoiding overtraining may be a way to limit prolonged issues.

What are some of the best treatments for ankle sprains especially early on? If all major problems are ruled out such as fractures, early movement and weight bearing is recommended. Using tape or bracing can help give the ankle added stability during the early period of healing to allow greater ease with walking. If someone must limp in an obvious manor due to the pain or instability, some added support may be helpful.

If it is not possible to walk or if there is sharp pain when touching some of the bones of the ankle, it is best to get in to have medical professionals rule out an ankle fracture. Walking on a broken leg is not always the best option.

If the sprain gives problems for more than a week or two, it may be helpful to have the ankle evaluated by a physical therapist who treats ankles sprains. Evaluating the swelling, joint mobility, muscle strength, ligament looseness, walking pattern, static balance, and dynamic balance are just a few ways a physical therapist can identify problems in the ankle. Once a problem is identified, it can then be treated. Different stretches, joint movements, strengthening exercises, soft tissue techniques, and balance exercises can be custom made to address the problems to get an individual back to the things they love most from walking down the sidewalk to descending stairs to explosive jumping or cutting activities.

Ankle sprains are common, but residual problems can result, especially when not treated properly. Having a proper evaluation and treatment of deficits can help optimize one’s full recovery. Staying active is important for the health of the entire body. Ankle pain or instability can be large barrier to one’s overall function. Do not let your ankle keep you down longer than a normal healing time. Optimize your ankle’s recovery with the proper treatment and guidance from a physical therapist.


What to Expect with Ankle Sprains

What to Expect with Ankle Sprains




van Rijn RM, van Os AG, Bernsen RM, Luijsterburg PA, Koes BW, Bierma-Zeinstra SM. What is the clinical course of acute ankle sprains? A systematic literature review. Am J Med. 2008 Apr;121(4):324-331.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2007.11.018.