Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries for kids and adults alike! They are annoying because they are persistent. This stems from the fact that they are often quite easy for people to ignore and push to the side. This creates an unstable and weak ankle. This weak ankle is continually rolled sprained to the point that it is almost beyond repair. This is extremely popular in netball and football players. When you combine this unstable ankle with the stop start and quick direction changes of modern sports, you open your body up to the risk of injury further up the body (low back, hips etc.).
You can help prevent this with simple exercises. They are to be done in stages and never to be painful. Feeling the ankle work and to be fatigued is fine, but pushing through pain spells disaster. No pain, no gain is potentially the worst saying in the English language! You are continuing to damage the ankle and no amount of rigid sports tape will keep it from failing. The only way to avoid the knife is to have the ankle treated and then rehabbed with specific, patient exercise rehabilitation.
Exercise number 1 - Range of motion
Simple range of motion exercises are going to be used throughout your recovery. Without body weight up down, side to side movements are used in the beginning. This teaches the brain that simple movement isn’t going to cause damage, calming your stress and pain centres. This progresses to standing calf raises and using steps. Hydrotherapy or pools are great tools to move the ankle by walking and skipping in deep water whilst avoiding the heavy compression of our body weight.
Exercise number 2 - Balance
You’re starting to walk pain free but the ankle is still showing some small signs of swelling and instability. You aren’t completely confident on the ankle yet and this is where balance comes in. Standing on one leg whilst brushing your teeth, single leg calf raises and mini squats are useful at home exercises. Whilst at the gym standing on fit discs or upturned bosu balls are also great to challenge the coordination of the leg and ankle. Start double legged and then progress to single.
Exercise number 3 - Thera-band
Most of the swelling has completely gone and you are walking virtually pain, aside from the odd niggle. Continue to have the ankle and leg treated to assist with the correct healing of the joint and prevent tension continuing up the leg. It is also an opportune time for your osteopath to show you some exercises using an elastic band or Thera-band. Turning the foot out and in under resistance and retraining the glutes at the same time is going to start to improve the strength and control of the ankle. Jumping back into squats and box jumps is too early at this stage and is the classic time of re-injury.
Exercise number 4 - Jumps and hops
You are pain free! You are starting to run again and everything is sunny side up. Now the fun starts. Starting double legged, forwards and backwards and side to side jumps introduce the ankle to compression in a safe way. Then into star jumps and hop-scotch! Once you’ve got the feel and safety of this, it’s time to do it on one leg. This is another good milestone to revisit the osteo as this recent increase of compression will have surely jammed the ankle a little bit.
The entire way through this protocol you should be compressing your ankle with basic tubi-grip or similar bandages. This affords your ankle the feeling of safety and reduced swelling, overall assisting in healing and reducing the risk of further injury.
And there you have it, a guideline to rehabilitating an ankle sprain! As osteopaths we are able to guide you through the different stages and provide specific tailored exercises. Progressing too soon or too late can be the difference between a successful rehab or re-injury, so it pays to do it right the first time.