"I was hiking downhill on the trail when I took a wrong step..."
If you have lived in Colorado for any length of time, you have probably told this story! The end result of the wrong step is often an ankle sprain. At Heafner Health I have listened to this scenario more than a handful of times. Fortunately, the majority of these injuries are only minor ankle sprains.
What is an Ankle Sprain?
Ankle sprains often involve the ligaments on the outer ankle, most commonly the Anterior Talofibular (ATFL) ligament. These ligaments are important for providing strength and stability of the foot and ankle region. During an ankle sprain ("roll your ankle"), the ligaments undergo a quick stretch.
Thankfully, the human body is an excellent self-mechanic. The whole body jumps on board to support the injured region.
How Long Will It Take to Get Better
While the time frame for full recovery will vary significantly depending on the severity of the ankle sprain, symptoms should begin to improve within the first few days. Gentle, pain free exercises are often prescribed within the first 24-48 hours to maximize early return to normal activities. Swelling and bruising is common. In fact, it is the bodies natural healing process to aid the injured area. The key is to manage any bruising, pain, and swelling so that normal movement can begin! If no complications arise, significant improvement should be seen in 4 weeks (It should be noted that 100% recovery can take months in more severe sprains).
Is Exercise Beneficial following an Ankle Sprain?
Early pain free exercises can help get people back to their normal fitness routine. You must perform the exercises on a regular basis to prevent stiffness or scarring from occurring. The exercises should not cause increased pain, but may cause soreness after completing the routine.
Below are several exercises that initiate movement following an ankle sprain. Please consult a local physical therapist for individual exercise prescription.
Assuming you are healing properly, these exercises will be quickly progressed to more advanced balance and strengthening exercises. Below are 4 examples of more advanced strengthening that is essential in the later stages of rehabilitation.
How Do You Prevent Ankle Sprains in the Future?
Once your symptoms have decreased it is important that you take the necessary steps to prevent the injury from returning. Below are several tips for preventing ankle sprains.
1) Strengthen the muscles of the foot and ankle
2) Focus on balance and coordination exercises
3) Strengthen the hips and spine
4) Change environmental factors (shoe type, body weight, walking surface)