A sprained ankle is an injury to one or more of the ligaments in the ankle, usually as a result of the ankle twisting in an awkward way or rolling beyond its normal range of motion. One of the most common injuries out there, sprained ankles are often only partially treated. The sprained ankle recurrence rate is also shockingly high; 73% of those who have sprained their ankle once are likely to do so again.
If you believe you’ve sprained your ankle, it’s important to seek treatment within 1-2 days of the trauma in order to help the healing process move along as efficiently as possible. The better the description of how the injury occurred, the more effectively your physical therapist will be able to begin to treat you. Sprained ankle recovery time varies based on the severity of the sprain but can span anywhere from weeks to months.
There are three classifications of the injury, broken up into sprained ankle grades: A Grade 1 ankle sprain is considered the most mild and is associated with symptoms of mild pain or swelling. A Grade 2 ankle sprain has symptoms of moderate pain and swelling along with bruising, stiffness and a possible limp. A grade 3 ankle sprain indicates a complete tear where the ligament is totally ruptured. Grade 3 sprains are considered severe and should be treated with caution as surgery may be required. With the exception of a Grade 3 sprain, it’s a common belief that most ankle sprains can be cured by just staying off your feet for a few days but unfortunately, this is not quite the case.
Sprained ankle recovery involves your physical therapist providing you with the tools to restore the normal joint mechanics in your ankle. This is done in a number of ways and is not limited to working only on the ankle (your whole body actually plays a role in the strength of your ankle). They’ll treat the soft tissue through manual therapy which will reduce inflammation and muscle tightness, address stiffness, improve range of motion and minimize the ankle pain. Your sprained ankle recovery will involve improving the strength of your ankle muscles as well as your hip and core to help you maintain balance. These muscles, when too weak, can negatively affect the way that your legs, ankles and feet interact as you move. As you may guess, this can significantly increase your risk of re-injury if the proper steps are not taken during the recovery of your initial sprained ankle.
Your physical therapist will help you train your balance while also assessing the alignment of your legs. They’ll look at the intrinsic foot muscles (which are the small muscles located at the bottom of the foot) to ensure that your feet are relaxed and that your toes are not gripping the floor when you stand. They’ll likely include exercises that incorporate full body movement and other movements to challenge your system.