Ankle Sprains in Sports: Understanding this Common Ligament Injury

Published by:RestorePhysio
May 30, 2023

Ankle sprains are one of the most prevalent injuries in sports, affecting athletes of all levels and disciplines. Whether it's basketball, soccer, running, GAA or any other activity that involves running, jumping and sudden changes in direction, the ankle joint is particularly vulnerable to sprains.

Understanding Ankle Sprains:

An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments that connect the bones of the ankle joint are over-stretched or torn. Ligaments provide stability to the joint and help prevent excessive movement. The most common type of ankle sprain is a lateral ankle sprain, which affects the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.

Causes: Ankle sprains typically occur when the foot rolls inward (inversion) or outward (eversion) forcefully, straining the ligaments beyond their normal range of motion. This can happen during activities that involve sudden changes in direction, uneven surfaces, or direct contact with another player. There is also a risk of bony injury during ankle sprains such as avulsion fractures.

Symptoms: The symptoms of an ankle sprain may vary depending on the severity of the injury. Mild sprains may cause minimal pain, slight swelling, and some difficulty in bearing weight. Moderate to severe sprains can result in intense pain, significant swelling, bruising, instability, and difficulty walking.

Treatment Options for Ankle Sprains:

Immediate care and proper treatment are essential to promote healing and prevent long-term complications. Here are the common treatment options for ankle sprains:

POLICE: Protect, Optimally Load, Ice, Compression, and Elevation is the first line of treatment for ankle sprains. Allowing relative rest of the injured ankle but getting it moving as soon as is safe to do so, applying ice packs to reduce swelling, using compression bandages to provide support, and elevating the foot above heart level to help to manage swelling.

Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain medications non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. However, these are not always beneficial and it's important to consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication.

Immobilisation: Depending on the severity of the sprain, immobilisation may be necessary to allow proper healing. This can involve wearing a supportive brace, boot or splint for a period set by your healthcare practitioner. Crutches may also be used for severe ankle sprains to keep weight off the injured ankle during the initial stages. However, if it is safe to do so, early movement and loading of the ankle joint as tolerated can result in a more efficient recovery than total rest in the acute phase.

Rehabilitation Exercises: As the ligaments begin to heal, rehabilitation exercises play a vital role in restoring strength, range of motion, and stability and getting you back to playing your sport. Physiotherapy exercises, such as ankle stretches, range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and balance training are frequently prescribed depending on your individual presentation after assessment. These exercises will need to be progressive and it is common to attend a number of physiotherapy visits to re-assess and advance your training as the ankle heals to ensure optimal recovery. At Restore Physiotherapy we take a holistic approach to all injuries and your physiotherapist will also look at risk factors that may have made you more vulnerable to this injury (including footwear, biomechanics, baseline strength and mobility levels, training load history and exercise technique) and address these as part of your rehabilitation programme. On return to sports we may recommend taping of your ankle joint to support the ligaments for the initial few weeks back.

In severe cases or if certain criteria are met we may recommend imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans, to objectively assess the extent of the injury and rule out any fractures or other complications.

To conclude, ankle sprains are common musculoskeletal injuries in sports, affecting athletes across various disciplines. Understanding the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and preventive measures for ankle sprains is crucial for athletes, coaches, and trainers. By working with your physiotherapist to rehabilitate your ankle and address risk factors that can leave you vulnerable to a recurrence of this injury, athletes can significantly reduce the risk of future ankle sprains. Furthermore, prompt and appropriate treatment, including optimal loading, rehabilitation exercises, and professional medical evaluation when necessary, can aid in a speedy successful recovery. Remember, prevention is key, and taking proactive steps to protect the ankle joint can help athletes stay in the game and minimise the impact of these common sports injuries.

If you would like our support with an injury please feel very welcome to contact me ( or [email protected]).

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