On a given day, more than 25,000 people will sprain their ankle. It can happen when you land the wrong way while you’re playing sports or participating in other physical activities, or even when you step on an uneven surface while walking. It can happen to athletes, non-athletes, children, and adults.
Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the “bands” that hold joints together. Ankle sprains occur when the foot twists or turns beyond its normal range of movement, causing the ligaments to stretch beyond their normal length. If the force is too strong, the ligaments may tear.
An ankle sprain can range from mild to severe, depending on how badly the ligament is damaged or how many ligaments are injured. Ankle sprains also are classified as acute, chronic, or recurrent:
With acute ankle sprain, you may have:
With most sprains, you feel pain right away at the site of the ligament tear. Often the ankle starts to swell immediately and may bruise. The ankle area usually is tender to the touch and, when you move the ankle, it hurts.
In more severe sprains, you may hear or feel something tear, along with a “pop” or “snap.” You probably have extreme pain at first and are not able to walk or even put weight on your foot. Usually, the more pain and swelling you have, the more severe your ankle sprain is, and the longer it will take to heal.
For the first 24 to 48 hours after injury, ankle sprains usually are treated by resting the ankle on a pillow or stool, using elastic bandages or supports, and 10-minute ice treatments. A physical therapist can decide if you should use crutches or a cane to protect your ankle while it is healing.
The therapist can design a specific treatment program for you to follow at home to help speed your recovery. Some sprains may require physical therapy treatments to help relieve swelling and pain, such skilled hand movements called manual therapy, special exercises, ice or heat treatments, and electrical stimulation. More severe sprains may require a special brace to provide extra support to your ankle.
Your physical therapist’s overall goal is to return you to the roles you perform in the home, at work, and in the community. Without proper rehabilitation, serious problems—such as decreased movement, chronic pain, swelling, and joint instability—could arise, severely limiting your ability to do your usual activities.