Ankle Sprains: Diagnosis, Treatment and Return to Sport

What are Ankle Sprains?

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries that people experience.  These injuries account for one million physician visits each year.  Lateral ankle sprains, also known as inversion sprains, are the most common.  They are particularly common in sports.  Forty percent of all traumatic ankle sprains occur during sports.  However, only 50% seek medical attention. The lack of medical care results in an increased risk for developing chronic ankle stability.  There are 3 different grades of ankle sprains, which progressively worsen with each grade.  Healing times vary from a couple of days to up to 6 months depending on severity.

Grades of lateral ankle sprain

What are Lateral Ankle Sprains?

Lateral ankle sprains occur when the outside of the ankle is stressed .  This usually occurs when the ankle is forcefully turned inward. This can happen when stepping on an uneven surface or landing awkwardly after jumping. The lateral ankle sprain typically occurs with stress to 1 of the 3 ligaments that stabilize the outside of the ankle. Depending on whether the foot is up (dorsiflexed), neutral, or down (plantarflexed) different parts of lateral ankle ligaments can be injured.

Lateral ankle sprains

How does a Physical Therapist Diagnose a Lateral Ankle Sprain?

A physical therapist can use tests and measures to diagnose ankle sprains. Typically this will involve checking ROM (range of motion) and strength of the ankle and lower leg.   Additionally, special tests and joint mobilization testing  can bias the ligaments to determine which are involved.  Movement analysis such as the FMS (functional movement screen), hop testing, and running/agility tests can also be used to help determine some of the impairments that may have contributed to the ankle sprain.  If you are seeing a physical therapist with direct access (seeing a PT first without going to a physician) they will perform other tests and screening procedures to make sure physical therapy is appropriate.  If your physical therapist feels you need different services, he or she will direct you to the best healthcare provider.

How are Ankle Sprains Treated?

Depending where you are at in the recovery phase and your goals, a physical therapist will approach your care differently. Early in treatment crutches or a boot may be used and a physical therapist will focus more on pain, swelling and maintaining motion and strength.   As your recovery progresses, your treatment will progress to more active treatments.  This will include manual therapy to improve ankle motion,  proprioceptive training, training for return to activity and strengthening exercises targeting areas that the therapist has found to be weak.

How do you Know you are Ready to Return to Sports?

Physical therapists have a great deal of experience in determining if you are ready to return to sports, work, and other activities.   A few of the tests a physical therapist can use to determine if you are ready to go back to your sport are the FMS, Y-Balance test, hop testing, tuck jump assessment, and the Landing Error Scoring System.  A physical therapist can also give you recommendations on footwear and proper training tips to help avoid ankle sprains in the future.  Contact your physical therapist to learn more about managing ankles sprains.

References

  1. Vuurberg G, Hoorntje A, Wink L, van der Doelen B,van den Bekerom M, Dekker R, van Dijk C, Krips, R, Loogman, M, Ridderikhok M, Smithuis F, Stufkens S, Verhagen E, de Bie R, Kerkhoffs G. Diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ankle sprains: update of an evidence-based clinical guideline.British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:956
  2. Doherty C, Delahunt E, Caulfield B, et al. The incidence and prevalence of ankle sprain injury: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective epidemiological studies. Sports Med 2014;44:123–40
  3. Verhagen EA,van Mechelen W,de Vente W. The effect of preventive measures on the incidence of ankle sprains. Clin J Sport Med 2000;10:291–6
  4. McGuine TA,Keene JS. The effect of a balance training program on the risk of ankle sprains in high school athletes. Am J Sports Med 2006;34:1103–11
  5. Kobayashi T,Tanaka M,Shida M. Intrinsic Risk Factors of Lateral Ankle Sprain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Health 2016;8:190–3
  6. Ivins, D. Acute ankle Sprain: An update. American Family Physician. 2006:741714-1720
  7. Wolfe M, Uhl T, Mattacola C, McCluskey L. Management of Ankle Sprains. Management of Ankle Sprains. 2001,63:93-1004
  8. EIM 2018 Sports Physical Therapy Competencies 2018 Lab Manual

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