This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physical therapist. All images authorized & copyright by Primal Picture Ltd.
Initial care is the same as for all other acute injuries: RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Use ice for 20 to 30 minutes each hour. Do not put the ice directly on the skin because it can cause frostbite. Wrap the ice in a wet towel or cloth to protect the skin.
Rehabilitation can begin immediately after the injury to minimize swelling and pain. There are three goals to aim for in rehabilitation after ankle sprain.
Restore motion and flexibility. Gently move the ankle up and down. After 5 to 7 days, start restoring motion to the hindfoot by turning the heel in and out.
Restore strength. After 60 to 70% of the ankle’s normal motion has returned, you can begin strengthening exercises using a rubber tube for resistance.
Restore balance. As strength returns, balance is restored by standing on the injured leg, hands out to the sides.
You may want to warm the ankle before doing these exercises by soaking it in warm water. Warmed tissue is more flexible and less prone to injury. Use ice when finished with the exercises to minimize any irritation to the tissue caused by the exercise.
Return to sports only after you have met these goals:
- You have full range of motion in all directions (up and down, side to side, and in and out). You have good strength in all muscles around the ankle.
- You have good balance.
- You have no pain or swelling with exercise or activity.
Taping the ankle or using a brace for support can help prevent re-injury. Select a brace that feels like it gives you the best support for the activity you want to do. Braces with straps or ties generally provide greater support. Never use a brace that is too tight. Custom orthotics may help the biomechanics of your ankle to prevent further re-injury.
Remember, a brace helps support strong muscles but should never be used as a substitute for a strengthening program. Continue to do strengthening exercises as you return to sports.