Though ankle injuries are extremely common, knowledge regarding how to treat a sprained ankle is less common. While immobilization is an important part of the early stages of healing, without exercise to improve strength and flexibility, you run a significant risk of reinjuring yourself.
How Physical Therapy Treats Ankle Pain
Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries with as many as 25,000 incidents occurring per day. Sprained ankles are classified in three “grades” with one being the lowest and three being the highest. Grade one sprains need no medical intervention and should be treated via tolerable stretching and strengthening, isometric exercise, and weight bearing provided none of these actions exacerbate the condition.
Grade two and three sprains necessitate physical therapy as more damage has been done to the ankle. In these situations, physical therapists help you to strengthen your injured ankle and to regain full functional range of your ankle.
The Phases of Ankle Sprain Recovery
When injuries occur, it is because the ankle’s ligament fibers have been damaged.
- Grade 1: Ligament fibers have sustained some slight stretching and some damage
- Grade 2: Ligament fibers have been torn partially.
- Grade 3: Ligament fibers have been torn completely.
In Grade 1 and 2 injuries, there is a method of treatment called the RICE treatment. The acronym RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest: Do not walk on the ankle following injury.
- Ice: Apply ice immediate after injury to suppress swelling; ice can be applied for 20-30 minutes per day three to four times per day. Wrapping should also be used to minimize swelling and pain.
- Compression: Wrap the ankle with bandages to provide support.
- Elevate: Lift the ankle above your heart level for 48 hours.
This is the first phase of the rehabilitation process for all ankle sprains; sprains recover in a three-step process.
- Phase 1: This is the resting, protecting, and immobilizing stage of recovery. The purpose of this stage is to reduce swelling and to protect the ankle while it is still fragile. This stage lasts one week.
- Phase 2: This is the very important stage in which the ankle regains movement and functionality including flexibility. Range of motion and strength are also regained during this stage. This stage lasts one to two weeks.
- Phase 3: This final stage involves returning to normal. Patients start with activities that do not involve turning their ankle, and they build up to ‘normal’ activities that do put increasing demands on the ankle (sports like tennis or basketball). This stage lasts for weeks to months.
Immobilize then Exercise
You will note that immobilization is a part of the healing process; however, it is only a component of the first phase of the process. Many people believe that protocol in treating a sprain is to immobilize the injury, which is why when a person has a sprained ankle (even a Grade 1 sprain), they will have the injured apparatus wrapped and will avoid using it even for walking short distances (even after the first week of injury). The misconception is that the ankle has to rest in order to heal; they neglect to respect exercise and stretching’s role in healing.
The reality is that extensive immobilization after an ankle sprain can actually increase the risk of re-injury. Exercise and physical therapy are thus essential for avoiding chronic pain and for mitigating the risk of re-injury. Additionally, it is important to complete the entire curriculum of care and healing recommended by your physical therapist. This includes trusting your physical therapist when they say that it is time to transition from immobilization to stretching and regaining strength and range of motion.
The physical therapists at the Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy Center are fully trained and have years of expertise in assessing and treating sprained ankles, so trust them to tell you when it’s time to start moving again because you can also trust them to help you every step of the way.
With four locations from Crestview to Destin, Florida, the Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy Center is the place to go for sports injuries and for expedient therapeutic recovery. When you’re in pain and looking for safe, competent, and complete relief, look no further than the experts at the Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy Center, LLC. They’ll get you up and running in no time.