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Ankle Sprain Prevention and Treatment

An ankle sprain is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in people of all ages, athletes and couch potatoes alike (Harvard Health).

The ankle joint is a complex joint that is made up of many ligaments and tendons (see below). Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, and is also one of the most painful. The sprain can be caused by a sudden twist or a sudden change in direction, which may cause the ligaments to stretch too far and tear. Sports that require jumping, turning and twisting movements such as Aussie rules, rugby, basketball, volleyball, netball; and explosive changes of direction such as tennis, soccer and hockey are particularly vulnerable to ankle sprains (Sports Medicine Australia). 



The most common symptoms of ankle sprain are pain, swelling around the joint, bruising, tenderness, decreased range of motion and difficulty to put weight on the affected ankle. In most cases, x-rays are done to rule out a fracture or dislocation. (Healthline; Sports Medicine Australia)

Sprains are categorized as grade 1, 2, or 3 depending the degree and tearing to the ligaments:

Grade 1: Minimal, little or no joint instability, and slight loss of balance. Recovery 1 – 3 weeks.

Grade 2: Moderate to severe pain, moderate joint instability, swelling, stiffness, tenderness, pain weight bearing, poor balance. Recovery 3 – 6 weeks. 

Grade 3: Severe pain followed by minimal pain, gross joint instability, severe swelling, possible pain with weight bearing, poor balance. Recovery several months. 

(Harvard Health


What Causes Ankle Sprain? 

Ankle sprains are caused by an abrupt twisting or stretching of the ankle, usually when the foot turns inwards and overstretches the ligaments on the outside of the ankle joint.

Tight calf muscles exacerbate the chance of a strain, as during motion they pull on the back of your heel and ankle, which can cause your foot to turn. Other factors include repetitive stress, muscle fatigue, and weakness in the muscles which support your foot. 

 There are a variety of reasons why you might sprain your ankle: 

  • a sudden change in direction or uneven surface
  • previous or existing ankle injury (particularly if have had poor rehab)
  • lack of strength and stability related to the ankle
  • lack of, or extreme flexibility, in the ankle joint
  • a sudden stop after running or jumping
  • landing on your foot from a height
  • landing on your toes from a height
  • not wearing supportive footwear or if you are on uneven terrain 
  • poor balance
  • increasing age.


Ankle Sprain Prevention

Ankle sprain prevention is an important part of a person’s physical fitness. The most important thing that one should do to prevent an ankle sprain is to stretch their muscles before they start exercising. Stretching the calf muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings will help protect the ankle from injury. 

Other prevention techniques include:

– Practicing prevention exercises (see video below).

– Wearing sturdy quality footwear 

– Warming up before exercising

–  Avoid running on hard or wet surfaces. 

– Slowing down or stopping activities when you are feeling fatigued.

(Harvard Health)

Ankle Sprain Treatment 

If you sprain your ankle the immediate treatment of any soft tissue injury is the RICER protocol – rest, ice, compression, elevation and referral. RICER protocol should be followed for 48–72 hours. The aim is to reduce the bleeding and damage within the joint. (Sports Medicine Australia). 

Many people try to tough out ankle injuries and don’t seek medical attention. But if an ankle sprain causes more than slight pain and swelling, it’s important to see a GP. Without proper treatment and rehab, a severe ankle injury may not heal well and could lose its range of motion and stability, resulting in recurrent sprains, and more rehab time.  (Harvard Health)

GPs regularly recommend visiting a physical therapist and sometimes using crutches or wearing a brace to help with healing (depending on the severity of the injury).

Ankle sprain massage is a therapeutic treatment that helps to reduce pain and swelling in the ankle. It can be used to treat an acute ankle sprain, or it can be used as part of an ongoing treatment plan for chronic instability. 

It involves applying pressure to the ankle with a gentle motion. The pressure is applied by hands, thumbs, or elbows and it can be done either on the injured person’s leg or foot. Both Myotherapists and Remedial Massage Therapists are adept at treating and relieving symptoms, and giving tools to strengthen and recover. 


Ankle Sprain Prevention and Treatment Exercises

These exercises will help strengthen the muscles around the ankle and reduce the risk of re-injury. They are also go-to prevention exercises: 

These exercises strengthen the muscles around the ankle joint, but they also help to prevent future injuries.

If you are experiencing symptoms of ankle sprain, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. If you are experiencing more than just slight sprain and swelling, first visit your GP to assess the underlying causes, then on the advice of your GP visit your physical therapist for targeted relief, and an ongoing treatment plan. If you have just mild symptoms, you can book in directly with your physical therapist. A single appointment will most likely provide immediate relief but there is no magic bullet for chronic aches and pains. Long term improvements will happen only with ongoing therapy and an active treatment plan.

Book an appointment with a therapist today on 03 8598 9804 or online