Ankle sprains can happen to anyone – whether you slip or step off a curb while walking or running, roll your ankle playing soccer, or land badly after a layup with your friends. There are three levels of sprains and each can happen to the ligaments on the inside or outside of your ankle.
The Most Common Ankle Sprains
An “inversion sprain” is the most common sprain, where the foot is quickly rolled inwards and the ligaments on the outside of your ankle are sprained. Ligaments are bands of non-muscular connective tissue which connects two bones and they provide stability to joints. The two most common ligaments that are affected during inversion ankle sprains are the calcaneo-fibular ligament and the anterior talo-fibular ligament. Here are the levels of severity of ankle sprains:
Grade 1 (Mild) Ankle Sprain:
A slight stretching and microscopic tearing of the ligament fibers. However, the ligament is still intact. You may experience mild tenderness and swelling on the outside of the ankle.
Grade 2 (Moderate) Sprain:
A partial tear of the ligament but it continues to be intact. You may experience increased bruising, swelling, and tenderness compared with a grade 1 sprain. Your ankle may also feel less stable until it heals.
Grade 3 (Severe) Sprain:
A complete rupture of the ligament. There will be significant tenderness and swelling around the ankle as well as difficulty walking or shifting directions while walking. There will be more substantial instability compared with a grade 2 sprain.
Treating Your Ankle Sprains, Based on Severity
Many grade 1 tears will resolve on their own. However, if you suspect a grade 2 or 3 ligament tear or are unable to walk due to pain, it may be time to schedule a Wellness Screening with a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer at Impact Physical Therapy. Our compassionate staff at Impact can assess which grade of ankle sprain you have experienced and help you make an educated decision on the next steps.
It may be important to see a doctor to rule out something more serious, such as a fracture. Your doctor may give you directions such as RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation to manage symptoms while they’re acute. This may include immobilization or use of crutches. Make sure to get specific directions for medications and RICE from your doctor. He or she may also give you some light exercises to keep the ankle from becoming stiff.
With moderate to severe ankle sprains, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to help manage swelling, regain range of motion, improve strength and balance, and safely return to your prior level of function, especially if it involves multi-directional sports. Your physical therapist at Impact will make a detailed plan based on your symptoms and can utilize a large variety of treatment strategies to maximize healing. Thankfully, very few ankle sprains require surgical intervention.
How Long Does a Sprain Take to Heal?
It is very important to respect the timeline of healing with ankle sprains and avoid returning to too much activity too quickly. Mild sprains may resolve in a few weeks where more significant sprains can take up to 3-4 months for proper healing and return to sport. Rehabilitation after a sprain can be broken down into three phases.
- Phase 1 of healing includes reducing swelling and protecting the ankle from strenuous activities.
- Phase 2 of healing focuses on improving range of motion and beginning light strengthening.
- Phase 3 includes a careful progression of strengthening and gradual return to activities. Once phase 3 is complete, it is time to progress dynamic strength in order to return to sports which require running + changing directions, such as soccer, basketball, or rugby.
Try Physical Therapy for Ankle Sprains
Many people can return to their full prior level of activity following an ankle sprain with a careful and conservative approach. If you suspect an ankle sprain, contact one of our clinics today to schedule a wellness screening to get you back on your feet!