How to Treat a Sprained Ankle in Athletes
Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in athletes and active people. While there is a lot of basic information on how to treat a sprained ankle immediately, there are very few resources for how to treat an ankle sprain in athletes returning-to-sport.
Ankle sprains are the most common injury in high school, college and professional athletes with approximately 15% of all injuries reported in those populations being ankle sprains, especially ankle sprains on the outside of your ankle. One study reported over 2 million ankle sprains in the United States in a year, and that only included ankle sprains that were treated in urgent care or emergency rooms!
Unfortunately, not only is it the most common injury in athletes, it also has a very high recurrence rate. Depending on the specific sport, about 15-47% of all ankle sprains in a year were “recurrent” ankle sprains. Or put more simply, once you sprain your ankle you have about a 3.5x greater chance of spraining your ankle again.
Why is that?
Potentially, factors we can’t control, like laxity in the ankle joint after an initial injury. But, in our experience as physical therapists, many athletes aren’t appropriately challenged in rehab after their ankle sprain.
Often they ice, they wear an ace wrap and do some low-level ankle strengthening band exercises. Then they put on a brace or get their ankle taped and go back to play.
That just isn’t sufficient.
Here is a brief example of what your ankle sprain rehab should include as an athlete.
Step 1: Do the basics
Ice your ankle, elevate your foot and wear a compression wrap to control the swelling.
Keep it moving with basic ankle circles and ankle pumps within comfort:
When you can tolerate it, use a band to complete the traditional 4 way ankle series:
You should see a doctor if you cannot bear weight or stand fully on your foot, if you have pinpoint tenderness on your ankle bones or on the bone on the outside of your foot.
But most importantly, don’t stop there!
Step 2: Restore strength and range of motion
The muscles surrounding your ankle are some of the strongest in your body. Using a simple band alone isn’t going to completely restore your strength.
Once you can tolerate the band exercises, try these:
Sometimes your ankle gets tight after an ankle sprain. You want to make sure you regain that lost mobility.
Step 3: Restore rate of force development and single leg stability
Recovering strength is important, but in athletes, we need to also recover the ability to generate force quickly around the ankles. This is important for landing and changing direction.
This is just a snapshot of how to treat an ankle sprain for athletes. Obviously, every situation needs specific guidance and progression. But most importantly, see a professional to actually rehab your ankle and decrease the risk of spraining your ankle again.
At Kinetic Sports Medicine and Performance, we specialize in the unique needs of competitive athletes and have helped countless athletes return-to-play after both minor and major ankle sprains. If you’ve recently sprained your ankle and want to get our opinion on your ankle sprain rehab, contact us today to schedule a free injury consultation with one of our physical therapists. You will get specific advice on what you need to do to get back on the field as quickly as possible and decrease your risk of reinjury!