You've probably experienced an ankle sprain or have heard that a particular person has experienced an ankle sprain. Ankle Sprain is a common injury that happens when you land on your foot wrongly during physical activity or step on an uneven surface while you're walking. You should seek the right treatment after spraining your ankle. Many people prefer to handle this injury themselves, but it's recommendable to seek professional care to guarantee optimal recovery. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we aim at providing the best physical therapy to our clients seeking therapy in Las Vegas, NV. Please schedule an appointment with us today, and let's begin your journey to recovery.
Definition of an Ankle Sprain
Sprains are injuries to the ligaments. Ligaments are the bands that hold joints together. An ankle sprain occurs when a person twists or turns the foot beyond its normal movement range, causing the ligaments that connect it to the bone, foot, or leg to tear or overstretch.
Ankle sprains usually affect the outer or lateral ligaments of the ankle. However, inner ligaments can also be injured, which is usually less common.
Ankle sprains take two weeks to one month to heal. However, it will take a few months to regain its full strength. Severely sprained ankles can last up to a year to heal completely.
It's common to recur ankle sprains after it's healed. At least 73% of people who have ever sprained their ankles have the likelihood of spraining their ankles again. You will most likely incur another injury if your muscle strength and balance are not fully restored or improved efficiently.
There are three grades of ankle sprains including:
Grade 1 Sprain
Grade 1 sprain is a mild type of sprain without disability. It involves the tearing of one or more ligaments. You can continue performing your daily life activities even after experiencing this kind of sprain. It takes two or three weeks to recover from this type of sprain. A grade 1 sprain is usually characterized by the inability to bear and walk fully.
Grade 2 Sprain
A grade 2 sprain is a moderate type of sprain characterized by discomfort. It occurs when there's a partial tear on one or more ligaments. It usually limits activities like twisting your ankle, and that’s why most people with Grade 2 sprains walk with a noticeable limp.
Grade 3 Sprain
A grade 3 sprain is a severe injury that results in severe discomfort and pain. The ligament is usually torn in a Grade 3 sprain in most cases.
Signs and Symptoms of Ankle Sprain
The symptoms of sprain and fractures can be easily confused. Many people usually mistake sprains for fractures. That's why you seek professional treatment as soon as possible to determine whether you're suffering from a sprain. You may experience the following signs after an ankle sprain:
- Instability in the ankle joint
- Inability to walk using the affected foot
In almost all types of sprain, you will feel pain right at the site where the ligament was stretched or torn. The ankle starts to swell almost immediately and probably bruises in most cases. The ankle area also tends to touch and hurt when you start moving it. In a severe case, you might feel something at the tear like a "pop" or "snap."
If the ligament is severely torn, you might experience swelling and pain. This is referred to as tendinitis. The ankle area might also feel warm when touched and weakness of the foot and the ankle. Tendinitis might take years to develop. Once it develops, you might experience symptoms like:
- Sporadic pain on the outer part of the ankle.
- Instability or weakness of the ankle.
- Increase in the height of your foot's arch.
Diagnosis of Ankle Sprains
A physical therapist will diagnose your ankle sprain by carefully examining the foot and ankle. The physical examination can be painful depending on the severity of the injury. The therapist will examine the following two ways:
- Palpate: The therapist will gently press around your ankle to determine which ligament is injured in this examination.
- Range of Motion: The therapist will move your ankle in different directions in this examination. Please note, a stiff, swollen ankle doesn't move too much.
Your physical therapist can determine the severity of the sprain based on the amount of bruising, pain, and swelling.
A physical therapist might order an X-ray to rule out a broken bone, foot, or ankle since it can cause similar symptoms as a sprain. The following are the types of image tests that a physical therapist can order.
A physical therapist can order a stress X-ray apart from a normal X-ray. This scan is taken while the ankle while PT pushes the ankle in different directions. Stress X-ray helps reveal whether the ankle is moving abnormally due to an injured ligament.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan
A physical therapist can order an MRI if they suspect that your ankle is severely injured. They can also order to determine whether there's damage to the cartilage or the bone of the joint surface, small bone chip, or detect another problem.
You should note that a PT cannot order MRI until the swelling or bruising resolves.
Ultrasound allows the PT to observe the ligament directly while moving the ankle, allowing the doctor to determine the stability that the ligament provides.
Treatment for Ankle Sprains
Most people don't require surgery while treating an ankle sprain. Even a complete ligament tear can heal without the need for a surgical repair if it's immobilized appropriately. Physical therapists usually adopt a three-phase program to treat all types of ankle sprains. These phases are as follows:
- Phase 1: This step includes resting and protecting the ankle to reduce its swelling.
- Phase 2: This step includes restoring the ankle's range of motion, flexibility, and strength.
- Phase 3: This step includes maintenance exercise and gradual return to activities that don't require turning or twisting the ankle.
This three-phased treatment program can take up to two weeks to complete for minor sprains or a maximum of twelve weeks for more severe injuries.
You can use the RICE approach for the first two to three days after a mild ankle sprain. These steps include the following:
- Resting: Avoid any activity that would cause discomfort, pain, or swelling.
- Ice: Use an ice-pack or ice-slash bath immediately after fifteen to twenty minutes and repeat this every two to three hours while you're awake.
- Compression: To stop the swelling, you should compress the ankle with an elastic bandage to stop the swelling. Make sure that you don't hinder your blood circulation by wrapping too tightly. The best way to do this is by wrapping the further end of your heart.
- Elevation: You should elevate your leg to reduce its swelling. Ensure that the elevation is away from your heart, especially at night. Putting your leg elevated allows gravity to help reduce the swelling by reducing the excess fluid.
Medication for Ankle Sprains
You can use common over-the-counter pain relievers as your medication. Some of the common pain relievers you can use include ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen. These drugs are enough to manage the pain of your sprained ankle.
You'll probably need to use crutches until the pain subsides. Your PT can also prescribe an elastic bandage, sports tape, or ankle support to stabilize your ankle. In case of a severe sprain, the PT might use a walking boot or cast to immobilize your ankle as it heals.
Surgical treatment for ankle sprains is rare. However, a PT can use surgery if you fail to respond to non-surgical treatment. It's also recommended for patients who experience persistent ankle instability after lengthy rehabilitation and non-surgical treatment. Your PT might recommend surgical options such as:
The PT will use a small camera known as an arthroscope to look inside your ankle joint in arthroscopy. The PT will then use small instruments to remove loose fragments of the cartilage or bone or part of the ligament caught in the joint.
Your PT can use reconstruction to repair torn ligaments with sutures and stitches. In some cases, they will reconstruct the damaged ligaments by replacing them with tissues grated from other tendons or ligaments available in the foot or around your ankle.
Your PT will recommend two crucial interventions following surgery on your ankle. They might recommend using a protective boot or cast to protect the reconstructed ligament. Ensure that you follow your PT's instructions about the period that you should wear the protective device. Removing it too soon might re-tear the fixed ligament after a simple misstep.
Your PT will also take you through a rehabilitation process to restore the strength and range of motion to regain your pre-injury motion. The period expected to recover depends on the extent of the injury and the surgery that was done. It may take a few weeks to months to rehabilitate your ankle. The PT might also recommend using crutches to ensure that you put the right amount of weight on foot.
The first few physical therapy sessions are meant to control the pain and swelling that results from the surgery. Some PTs might use electrical stimulation treatment for these sessions, progress to massage, and other hands-on treatment to ease the pain and spasms.
After a few weeks, you can start doing more active exercises. These exercises aim at improving the strength of the peroneal muscles.
How a Physical Therapist Will Help with Your Ankle Sprain
Generally, a physical therapist would help you recover better and quicker than you would do alone. With a PT, it takes two to eight weeks to heal. A professional PT should work with you to meet your recovery goals. The healing or treatment process is a step-by-step process that starts from the first twenty-four hours. At this point, the therapist will recommend that you:
- Rest the ankle area by avoiding activities that might cause pain.
- Applying ice packs on the affected area for fifteen to twenty minutes after two hours.
- Consult a physician for further intervention like diagnostic tests and medication.
- Walk using the affected foot as soon as you can.
- Use crutches or other walking devices that would help you alleviate the pain and maintain balance.
- Wrap our ankle with an ankle brace to support and prevent swelling.
With these self-treatments, you can stay as active as possible with the least pain that would help you speed the healing process.
Apart from the above self-treatment considerations, your PT will work with you to achieve the following:
Alleviate the Pain and Swelling
Your PT will recommend ways that you can modify your sporting activities or daily activities to allow optimal healing. The PT can use several types of treatment and technologies to alleviate swelling or pain. These methods include taping, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, ice, heat, specialized massage, and hands-on therapy.
Improve Your Foot Motion
Your PT should choose specific activities and treatments that can help you restore your normal ankle movement. The therapist might help improve your foot motion with "passive" motions that include gentle movement of the ankle and foot and progress to "active" exercises that are more intensive and probably require you to handle them by yourself.
Improve Your Flexibility
Your PT will begin by determining whether your foot, ankle or lower leg muscles are tight. They will then stretch them and teach you how to do this yourself.
Improving your Strength
You can experience an ankle sprain due to weak, injured, or uncoordinated leg muscles. Your PT will recommend certain exercises to help you recover at every stage. They will help you by teaching you the correct exercises and equipment that would help you restore your strength. These exercises might include stretching bands, weight-lifting equipment, and cuff weights.
Improve Your Endurance
It's crucial to regain your muscular endurance in the ankle and leg after an ankle sprain. Your PT should recommend exercises that will improve your endurance to ensure that you return to your normal activities as soon as possible. They might also recommend exercises on equipment like a stationary bicycle and treadmill.
Improve Your Balance
You should aim to regain your balance after an injury. Therefore, your PT will teach you to exercise, which will help you improve your balance.
Restore Your Agility
If you're an athlete, you should focus on recovering your leg movement's speed and accuracy. Your PT will recommend ways you can recover these skills and return to your daily sporting routine.
Learn a Home Recovery Program
Your PT should discuss activity goals and use them to set your sports, home-life, or work recovery goals. The PT will also teach you exercises, work retraining activities, and sports-specific techniques to help you achieve these goals.
Speed Your Recovery Time
Your PT has the experience to choose exercises and treatment needed to help you safely heal, return to your normal lifestyle, and reach your goals faster than you would when you're alone.
Ways to Prevent an Ankle Sprain
Many people will prevent ankle sprains if they take relevant measures to eliminate the possibility of incurring this injury. Below are a few tips that can help you prevent an ankle sprain:
Improve Your Balance
One of the best ways of avoiding ankle sprains is by improving your balance. Therefore, you should learn how balance works in your body.
The ability to maintain balance depends on your sight, nerves, and vestibular system. You will likely be in good shape if these three balance systems work simultaneously. One of the ways you can improve your balance is by practicing balancing on one foot when performing light upper body exercises like brushing. Physical therapy can also help you improve your serious balance issues.
Wear Shoes that Fits Your Activity
If you're into sports, you must be careful with the type of shoes that you wear. Look for footwear designed for your sports. The right shoes will take special care of your feet and ensure that you maintain the right level of support.
Stretch It Out
Many ankle sprains result from deconditioning and failure to stretch out. Therefore, you should have warm-up regimens like stretching the ankle to improve your range of motion and flexibility. However, avoid stretching in a manner that would cause pain or other discomforts on the ankle.
Improve Your Conditioning Game
You should strengthen your leg muscles by engaging in strength training exercises. This helps stabilize our ankle joint, improve our balance, which safeguards your sprained ankle.
Work on Your Technique
Knowing how to engage in activities like landing, jumping, pivoting, and diving helps you avoid ankle sprains. Your PT should teach you how to use your body mechanics to work on your technique.
Nutrition plays a major role in causing ankle sprains. You should eat foods rich in Vitamin D to strengthen your bones. Talk to your doctor about the right nutrition plan that would help strengthen your ankle bones and ligaments.
Find A Physical Therapist Near Me
It's crucial to seek medical attention as soon as you sustain an ankle injury. Prompt and appropriate treatment ensures that you recover appropriately. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we aim to provide the best physical therapy services to clients seeking our services in Las Vegas, NV. We are committed to working with you, addressing all your concerns, and achieving the best therapy goals. For more information, call us today at 702-368-6778 and schedule an appointment.