Most people have sprained their ankle at one time or another in their life – and they know just how painful it can be. But, what actually is
an ankle sprain?
An ankle sprain occurs when the ankle is twisted, rolled, or turned in an awkward way. When this movement tears or stretches the ligaments
in the ankle, it’s considered a sprain.
There are different severities of ankle sprains – a light sprain may cause discomfort and can heal quite quickly. On the other hand, a
severe ankle sprain can be debilitating and take a long time to recover – and should be paired with rehab once the ligaments are healed.
Ankle sprains are commonly measured by grade, and the grades can be described as follows:
Grade I: a slight tear or stretch of the ligament that’s accompanied by mild tenderness, swelling and stiffness – likely to recover within
two weeks to a month.
Grade II: A sprain that’s more severe than grade one, with a partial ligament tear that’s accompanied by moderate pain, swelling and
bruising – likely to recover within six to eight weeks.
Grade III: a complete tear of the ligament, that’s accompanied by severe pain, swelling and bruising – likely to recover within three to six
Ankle sprains can occur to anyone going about their day-to-day life. However, they are a common ailment in athletes who play contact sports.
Sports like basketball, soccer and hockey all involve a lot of running, paired with stopping and starting. These movements increase the risk
of twisting your ankle in a way that will injure the ligament.
Fortunately, there are some exercises you can do to strengthen your ankle and reduce the risk of injury. If you’ve had the misfortune of
spraining your ankle, there are some stretches and rehabilitation exercises you can do to help get your ankle back into good condition, and
we’ve listed some below.
Common symptoms of an ankle sprain
People with an ankle sprain may experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:
- Pain or discomfort when weight bearing on the injured foot
- Swelling in the ankle
- Restricted movement in the ankle
- Instability in the ankle
- Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury
- Limited range of motion
Common symptoms of an acute ankle sprain
People with an acute ankle sprain may experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:
The above symptoms paired with:
- Severe pain, swelling and bruising
- The inability to put any weight at all on the foot
Strengthening exercises for rehabilitating an ankle sprain
Toe-heel walking for balance
- Stand up normally with both legs straight.
- Transfer your body weight so that the balls of your feet are off the floor and you are balancing on your heels.
- Take fifteen steps while balancing on your heels.
- Return to your normal stance.
Transfer your body weight so that your heels are off the floor and you are balancing on the balls of your feet (or your tip toes).
- Take fifteen steps while balancing on the balls of your feet.
- Return to your normal stance.
- Repeat both sets two more times.
Find a surface, like a step, where you can lower the heels of your feet below the line of your toes. and have something nearby that you can
hold with your hands for balance.
Stand on the step with your feet shoulder-width apart and ensure the balls of your feet are on a flat surface, and your heels and hanging
over the edge.
- Slowly lower your heels below the level of your toes, and hold onto something, like a chair, for balance if you need to.
- Hold this position for 2-3 seconds, and then slowly raise yourself back so you’re feet are in line with your toes again.
- Repeat this exercise ten times to complete one set.
- Rest between each set, and carry out a total of three sets.
Standing heel raises
- Stand with both feet flat on the ground, and hold on to something like a chair or countertop for balance if you need it.
- Pick your right foot off the ground and bend it at the knee, so that you’re balancing on your left leg.
- Press your weight towards the balls of your feet and raise your heel off the ground so that you’re standing on your tip toes.
- Slowly lower your feet back to the ground until they’re positioned flat again.
- Repeat this action a total of 15 times on each foot to complete a set.
- Rest between sets and complete a total of three sets.
Ankle sprain stretching exercises
- Sit on the floor with both of your legs out straight in front of you.
- Loop a long bath towel around both of your feet and hold the ends with both hands, while keeping your back straight.
- Slowly pull the towel towards you and make sure that your leg stays straight.
- Pull the towel until you can feel the stretch in the arch of your foot.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat this stretch twice more.
- Put a rolled-up towel or a foam roller on the ground.
- Sit on the ground with your left leg straight out in front of you and your right knee bent.
- Put your left leg straight out in front onto the towel or foam roller.
- Turn your ankle slowly ten times in a clockwise circular motion.
- Reverse this action and turn your ankle slowly ten times in a circular anti-clockwise motion.
- Repeat the stretch on the other leg.
- Repeat this stretch twice more on each side
Cross leg ankle stretch
- Sit on a chair with both of your feet on the ground.
- Bend your left knee and rest your left ankle on your right knee.
- Hold your left foot with both of your hands.
- Use your right hand to bend your left toes and ankle downward, like you’re pointing your toes.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- Repeat this stretch twice more on each side
Tips to prevent ankle sprains
Build up ankle strength
Regularly doing ankle exercises will help build up the muscles in the area, and this will help to protect the ligaments from getting
injured. So, if you’re prone to ankle sprains, play a contact sport, or just want to try and protect yourself from getting an injured ankle,
you should commit to regular ankle exercises. To target the ankle muscles specifically, you can do the exercises listed above.
Improve your balance
While your eyes play an important part in keeping balance, the body also has the ability to sense where it is in space, which is called
proprioception, and this is why most people can balance standing on one leg. To improve your proprioception, you can do certain exercises.
Improved balance means a lower likelihood of falling and twisting your ankle in a way that will injure the ligament. To improve your balance
specifically, you can do the ‘toe-heeling walking for balance’ exercise mentioned above.
Wear an ankle brace when playing contact sports
You don’t need to be injured to wear a brace during sport – you can also wear it as a preventative measure. This tip is especially relevant
for those who play a high contact sport and commonly find themselves in a position where they have a higher chance of ankle injury.
Furthermore, a brace will train the body to avoid moving the ankle in a way that may cause injury. To support your ankle you can wear an
ankle brace, or you can strap it with tape.
When your body is dehydrated, your run a much higher risk of experiencing a cramp. Plus, dehydration in the body causes the muscles to tense
up. If a muscle cramp is particularly bad, it can lead to actual tears in some of the muscles fibres.
For this reason – and many other reasons – it’s important to drink a sufficient amount of water daily. The recommended intake is around 2.6
litres a day for men and 2.1 litres a day for women.
When to see a podiatrist about an injured ankle
Podiatrists are doctors that specialise in the feet and lower limbs. So, they are very well experienced and skilled at treating any ankle
injuries – including ankle sprains. Ankle sprains can be extremely painful, and long-term damage can be done if they’re not treated quickly
and properly. So, if you suspect a sprain or have pain in your ankle, you should see a podiatrist straight away.
A qualified podiatrist will be able to conduct a physical exam or run some tests, to determine whether you have an ankle sprain and, if so,
what grade it is. They’ll also be able to advise you on the best way to repair and rehabilitate your condition.