March Madness is one week away. This month we thought we would highlight a common injury from our favorite basketball tournament of the year, ankle sprains. On a given day, more than 25,000 people will sprain their ankle. It can happen when you land the wrong way while you’re playing sports or participating in other physical activities, or even when you step on an uneven surface while walking. It can happen to athletes, non-athletes, children, and adults.
What Is Ankle Sprain?
Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the “bands” that hold joints together. Ankle sprains occur when the foot twists or turns beyond its normal range of movement, causing the ligaments to stretch beyond their normal length. If the force is too strong, the ligaments may tear.
An ankle sprain can range from mild to severe, depending on how badly the ligament is damaged or how many ligaments are injured. An ankle sprain is given a grade from 1 to 3 depending on the amount of ligament damage. A grade 1 sprain is mild, grade 2 is moderate, and grade 3 is severe.
Ankle sprains also are classified as acute, chronic, or recurrent:
With most sprains, you feel pain right away at the site of the ligament tear. Often the ankle starts to swell immediately and may bruise. The ankle area usually is tender to the touch and, when you move the ankle, it hurts.
In more severe sprains, you may hear or feel something tear, along with a “pop” or “snap.” You probably have extreme pain at first and are not able to walk or even put weight on your foot. Usually, the more pain and swelling you have, the more severe your ankle sprain is, and the longer it will take to heal.
How Is It Diagnosed?
At Advanced Motion Physical Therapy a physical therapist will perform a full evaluation. Manual tests are used to determine how unstable your ankle is. The therapist also will decide whether further tests are required or whether consultation with another health care provider is necessary. In some cases, x-rays might be needed to determine whether there is a broken bone. Occasionally, with severe sprains, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) might be ordered to determine the extent of the damage.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
The First 24 to 48 Hours
For the first 24 to 48 hours after injury, ankle sprains usually are treated by resting the ankle on a pillow or stool, using elastic bandages or supports, and 10-minute ice treatments. A physical therapist can decide if you should use crutches or a cane to protect your ankle while it is healing.
As You Start to Recover
Your physical therapist’s overall goal is to return you to the roles you perform in the home, at work, and in the community. Without proper rehabilitation, serious problems—such as decreased movement, chronic pain, swelling, and joint instability—could arise, severely limiting your ability to do your usual activities.
Your physical therapist will select from treatments including:
Range-of-motion exercises. Swelling and pain can result in limited mobility of the ankle. A physical therapist teaches you how to do safe and effective exercises to restore full movement to your ankle.
Muscle-strengthening exercises. Ankle muscle weakness may cause long-term instability of the ankle and new ankle injuries. Your physical therapist can determine which strengthening exercises are right for you based on the severity of your injury and where you are in your recovery.
Body awareness and balance training. Specialized training exercises help your muscles “learn” to respond to changes in your environment, such as uneven or unstable surfaces. When you are able to put full weight on your foot without pain, your physical therapist may prescribe these exercises to help you return to your normal activities.
Activity-specific training. Depending on the requirements of your job or the type of sports you play, you might need additional rehabilitation that is tailored for your job or sport and the demands that it places on your ankle. Your physical therapist can develop a program that takes all of these demands—as well as your specific injury—into account.
Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?
If you have sprained your ankle more than once in your life, you might be at risk for re-injury in the future if the ligaments did not heal properly or if your ankle never returned to its normal strength. And, if you returned to sports or activities too soon after injury, your ankle might give you persistent pain or might easily or frequently sprain. A physical therapist can help you resolve these problems.
At Advanced Motion Physical Therapy we can help you get back to life and work quicker than ever.
Current research shows that: ten days after injury, patients in an early ankle mobilization group (physical therapy) were more likely to be back to work and had less pain 3 weeks after the injury.
Icing started within 36 hours of injury reached full activity in 13.2 days as compared with an average 30.4 days for those initiating ice more than 36 hours after injury.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing ankle pain or recurrent sprains, come in and see us at Advanced Motion Physical Therapy. We can help you regain your mobility and your life.
Remember this information is not meant to take place of medical treatment. Consult your doctor or physical therapist if needed.
Have a great March Madness and tell your friends to “like” us on Facebook to receive healthy tips through the year.
Lance Dougher DPT, MTC