July 15, 2017
Don’t be a Frequent Flyer For Ankle Sprains

Some people make it through life with just one twisted ankle.  For others, that first one starts a lifetime of reoccurring ankle sprains.  If you fall in that latter group, there’s hope!

Why does this keep happening?

When you sprain your ankle, you are stretching the lateral ligaments of the ankle beyond their capabilities.  This can lead to the joint being “looser” than it was before the sprain, predisposing you to injure it again in the same way [1].  Repeated injury can also lead to scar tissue forming which can cause changes in the way your ankle moves.

Sprains also damage the surrounding muscles, tendons, and nerves [1]. Damaged nerves may become less able to tell when your joint is off-kilter.  Both nerves and muscles may end up responding more slowly in times when your foot needs to move quickly to avoid injury.  You can see how all of this adds up to repeated injuries.

What to do?

The first thing to try is to make sure you allow your sprain to fully heal. To fully heal does not mean to stay off the ankle until it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it is best to stay mobile and use what is called “Functional Recovery”.  Functional recovery is using and strengthening the ankle while you protect it against reinjury.  Ligaments that repair under tension will repair appropriately reducing the chance for that “loose” ankle.  Functional Recovery has three key components.

  1. Reduce the Swelling: With cold, compression and elevation
  2. Protect the Ankle: Use a brace to ensure you don’t “roll” and re-injure your ankle as it heals.
  3. Strengthen and Stretch: Follow an exercise and stretch plan to regain your natural motion and strength.

Reduce the Swelling

Cold, compression, and elevation are the three pillars of reducing the swelling that comes from a trauma like an Ankle Sprain. Swelling will limit your range of motion and will persist longer than you might think so it is important to apply cold and compression several times a day and after activity during the healing process. 

Protect the Injury

Research suggests that wearing ankle braces is your best line of defense.  You can help prevent injury by preemptively wearing a brace when engaging in activities where you might be on uneven ground such as field sports or hiking [2]. Braces can range from a simple compression bandage that can go under your sock all the way to a metal ribbed brace that ensures no side-to-side movement.  A good brace is one that provides support on each side (Medial and Lateral) while allowing the full range to point down and flex up. It also needs to be low enough profile to wear. 

Regain Strength and Motion

Building up the strength in the muscles surrounding the ankle gives your joint natural support.  One study found that training on an ankle disk reduces re-injury in athletes with reoccurring sprains [2].  By practicing being unsteady in a safe way, your body learns to stay stable and controlled during movements.

You can also build up your strength with resistance bands [3]. By looping one end around your foot and the other end around a sturdy object, you can do exercises that strengthen in 4 directions:

  • Dorsiflexion – moving your toes towards your head
  • Plantar flexion – pointing your toes
  • Inversion – moving your foot towards your other foot
  • Eversion – moving your foot away from your other foot

Foot and Ankle Strength-Resistance Bands

Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries [3].  By taking an active role in your recovery, you can limit the number of sprains you experience, giving you a better quality of life! To make recovery simple we have put all the tools and instruction in our Ankle Sprain Care Kit.


[1] https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200029050-00005

[2] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/036354658501300408

[3] http://www.natajournals.org/doi/abs/10.4085/1062-6050-49.3.71?code=nata-site

Joe McClung

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