• Eric Lau

Ankle Sprain: Early Signs, Treatments, and Exercises

If you’ve ever rolled your ankle in the past, you understand just how terrible the experience can be when this happens. Spraining your ankle can make walking and standing sore for days or weeks. It’s also important to understand that re-injuring your ankle after an ankle sprain is fairly high if it is not treated properly. Let’s take a look at what exactly is a sprained ankle and how to recover faster and prevent further injury.


A male runner wrapping a tensor bandage around his left ankle

What is it?


Most ankle sprains typically involve soft tissue damage which means injury to the ligaments and tendons around the ankle. Ankle fracture from an ankle sprain is rare. The ligaments and tendons around the ankle become inflamed and sore making the ankle feel more unstable. This causes a higher chance for re-injury. Shortly after spraining your ankle it’s important to get the inflammation under control and gently stretch and strengthen the ankle.


An ankle can be sprained by rolling it, twisting it, or turning it in an awkward way. A sprained ankle will quickly cause swelling, pain, and a limited range of motion. Most people treat mild ankle sprains with rest, ice, and pain relievers. However, severe sprains may need a medical evaluation to rule out fractures and prescribed a structured ankle rehabilitation program.


What are the signs and symptoms?


People will commonly feel ankle or foot pain after an ankle sprain along with swelling and bruising in the area. The area will be very tender to touch and putting weight on the ankle may cause severe pain. For mild sprains, the swelling usually subsides in a few days.


In more severe cases, the swelling and bruising may persist. X-rays are usually indicated if the pain is so intense after injury you are unable to bear weight or walk more then four steps. If this is the case, you should get an X-ray to rule out a fracture in the ankle and foot.


How is it treated?


If there is swelling and pain around your ankle after the sprain you should use the “POLICE” method. POLICE is an acronym that stands for Protect, Optimally Load, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Protect the ankle by wearing a brace or an ankle sleeve. Optimally load by performing gentle stretching and strengthening exercises. As your ankle improve, progress to more challenging and sport specific exercises. Ice your ankle for 20 minutes 2-3x per day. Use a tensor bandage or a sleeve to provide some light compression to keep the swelling down. Keeping your foot elevated also helps decrease swelling. Sit with your foot raised up to the level of your heart.


When you twist your ankle both the ligaments and muscles around the ankle are injured. Your physiotherapist will massage the muscles and ligaments to release tension in the ankle. This will help with your ankle mobility and your ability to walk and stand. A specific technique called “joint mobilization” can also be used by your physiotherapist to stretch your ankle to help with your flexibility. Acupuncture can be used to help with pain and improve circulation in your ankle to speed up the healing process.

Common Home Exercises:


Ankle and foot alphabets:

This exercise is focused on increasing flexibility in your ankle. Pretend that your big toe is a paint brush and write out the alphabet by twisting and turning your foot. It’s up to you if you want to write upper or lower case letter but remember to draw each letter as big as possible.


Peroneal eversion:

This exercise will target a muscle on the outside of your leg called the peroneal muscle. Training this muscle will give you more stability in your ankle to prevent future injuries. Start with your foot inwards and up then move your ankle down and out. If you look at the side of your leg you should be able to see the peroneal muscle contract and flatten out. Use a resistance band for this exercise for more of a challenge.


Physiotherapist ankle moving from inversion to eversion position

Calf raises:

This is a gentle exercise to start strengthening your ankle and improve flexibility. Standing close to a wall will help with balance and then stand up on your tippy toes. Start on both feet and then progress to single legged to challenge and improve your balance.

Knee to wall stretch:

Start in a lunge position. Gently glide your knee over your first and second toe. After an ankle sprain you will notice that this movement is more stiff. Gently work on this over the next few weeks to regain the flexibility.

Physiotherapist in a lunge position in front of a wall

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