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Understanding Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries, affecting people of all ages and activity levels. As a physical therapist with extensive experience in treating ankle injuries, I want to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the different types of ankle sprains and what you can expect during the recovery process.

Types of Ankle Sprains

1. Lateral Ankle Sprain: This is the most common type of ankle sprain and occurs when the foot rolls inward, stretching or tearing the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle. Lateral ankle sprains are often graded on a scale from mild (Grade I) to severe (Grade III), depending on the extent of ligament damage.

  • Symptoms: Common symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected ankle. Depending on the severity, there may also be joint instability.

  • Ligaments Affected: The primary ligaments involved in lateral ankle sprains are the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), calcaneofibular ligament (CFL), and posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL).

2. Medial Ankle Sprain: Less common but equally painful, medial ankle sprains result from the foot rolling outward, injuring the ligaments on the inner side of the ankle.

  • Symptoms: Similar to lateral ankle sprains, individuals may experience pain, swelling, and bruising on the inner side of the ankle. Weight-bearing can also be challenging.

  • Ligaments Affected: The deltoid ligament, a complex of several ligaments on the inner side of the ankle, is usually involved in medial ankle sprains.

3. High Ankle Sprain (Syndesmotic Sprain): This type of sprain involves the ligaments above the ankle joint, connecting the tibia and fibula bones. High ankle sprains typically result from excessive external rotation of the foot and can be more severe than traditional ankle sprains.

  • Symptoms: Pain, swelling, and difficulty bearing weight are common symptoms. High ankle sprains often require more time to heal than lateral or medial sprains.

  • Ligaments Affected: The syndesmotic ligaments, which connect the tibia and fibula bones in the lower leg, are injured in high ankle sprains.

Recovery Expectations

The recovery process for ankle sprains varies depending on several factors, including the type and severity of the sprain, your age, overall health, and adherence to the recommended treatment plan. Here's what you can generally expect during your ankle sprain recovery journey:

1. Rest and Protection (Days 1-7):

  • Immediate rest and protection of the injured ankle are crucial.

  • Your physical therapist may recommend the use of crutches or a brace to reduce weight-bearing on the affected ankle.

  • You’ll be advised to ice the ankle, elevate it, and apply compression to minimize swelling (R.I.C.E.).

2. Early Rehabilitation (Days 7-21):

  • As swelling and pain subsides, you’ll begin gentle range of motion exercises to prevent stiffness.

  • Physical therapy may include manual techniques to improve joint mobility and minimize scar tissue formation.

3. Strengthening and Stability (Weeks 4-8):

  • At this stage, you’ll focus on strengthening the muscles around the ankle to provide better support.

  • Balance and proprioception exercises will be introduced to improve stability and reduce the risk of future sprains.

4. Return to Activity (Weeks 8-12+):

  • Depending on the type and severity of your sprain, you may be able to return to your regular activities and sports.

  • Your physical therapist will guide you through a gradual return-to-sport program to ensure a safe transition. Just be sure you have a physical therapist who frequently works with sports and orthopedic injuries to better assist you back to sport.

5. Preventing Future Sprains (Ongoing):

  • To reduce the risk of re-injury, it’s essential to maintain a regiment of strength and balance exercises.

  • Proper footwear, taping, or bracing may be recommended for high-risk individuals or athletes.

Factors Affecting Recovery

Several factors can influence your ankle sprain recovery:

  • Severity: More severe sprains typically require a longer recovery period.

  • Previous injuries: A history of ankle sprains may increase the risk of future injuries.

  • Compliance: Adhering to your physical therapy program and following your healthcare provider’s advice is critical for successful recovery. Think about our exercises as a form of “medication.” If your heart doctor tells you to take blood pressure medication to keep your heart healthy, you’d do it right?

How can Hybrid Physical Therapy help?

At Hybrid Physical Therapy, we treat ankle injuries all the time. It’s one of the top 5 injuries we’ll come across in the clinic. Our therapists customize an exercise program to meet the individual needs of each patient. Whether you’re an athlete trying to return to sport or a person looking to walk around the park again, we’re here to help. Trust that our physical therapists will provide exceptional 1-on-1 care to give you the attention you deserve to address your symptoms, faster.

Let Hybrid Physical Therapy be the ones to guide you to the road to success and optimize your performance.

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