I Sprained My Ankle, Do I Need Physical Therapy?

Have you ever twisted or sprained your ankle? Sometimes it happens while you’re playing sports, working out, hiking, or even just walking around the house. Either way, this can be quite painful, and I’ll get asked a lot of times if it’s worth coming in for physical therapy.

The answer is yes!

When you sprain your ankle the ligaments that help support the ankle joint are overstretched. It can take a while for these ligaments to heal and be back to full strength, but we don’t always think about the other parts of our ankles that are hurt. Our muscles have a harder time doing their job for walking and turning because of the stiffness and pain. We also have receptors in our ankles that help keep us balanced. Basically, the receptors tell our body when we are off balance and how to correct it. When you sprain your ankle, these receptors and your muscles are not able to do their job very well, which can lead to poor balance and difficulty with normal activities like walking. Without some specific exercises it can take a lot longer to get back to feeling your best. Especially if you’re trying to get back to exercising it is really important to make sure your body is prepared for the specific movements you want to do.

Right after spraining your ankle there are a few things you should make sure to do and understand. This is the first step to helping your ankle heal and get you back to 100%

1- Protect your ankle to prevent any further twisting or injury to the area. This means restricting the activity on your ankle for about 1-3 days. Just enough to let the area start to heal, but not too long either.

2- Elevate your ankle above your heart to help with the swelling. Try about 20 minutes at a time.

3- Compression can also be helpful with swelling. Try this with an ACE bandage or compression sleeve. It is important to know that this isn’t the most important part of rehab for your ankle, but it definitely won’t hurt either.

4- Active recovery is the most important part of rehabbing your ankle. This means the bulk of getting your ankle better is going to involve exercise and gradually challenging your ankle. This includes walking, strengthening, balance, and plenty of other exercises.  

In general, let pain be your guide with this process. If something really hurts a lot, you’re probably not ready to do it. If something hurts a little bit. It’s okay to keep doing.

After those first few days there are a few next steps in this rehab to help you make a quick recovery.

1- The first thing you want to do is gradually load the ankle. This means putting weight on it, walking, and performing light exercises. By gradually challenging your ankle with weight bearing, and light exercises you will improve your ankles ability to become strong, pain free, and balanced.

2- You also want to remain positive and optimistic throughout this process. Suffering any kind of injury can be really difficult, especially when it keeps you from doing the things you love. When you sprain your ankle, you might miss part of your sports season or be unable to exercise with friends. This can be really hard to deal with, especially if you’ve had other ankle sprains in the past. It is important to remember to stay positive because it will get better, it just takes time and hard work.

3- It is also really hard to keep doing cardio when you’ve sprained your ankle. If you’re a runner or soccer player, it isn’t easy to do your normal workout. It’s important to find a way to do some cardio. This could be riding a bike, using an elliptical, or working out on a rower. Any of these will work great, just make sure to keep some kind of aerobic exercise in your routine.

4- Finally, the most important part of rehabbing your ankle is to perform specific exercises and gradually progress them. This means challenging your balance, range of motion, and strength. It will be important to work within your limits, but also to push yourself so you can make steady progress. As you get stronger the exercises should progress, so they are even more challenging and specific to your goals. The specific exercises are going to be the most important part of healing your ankle and will help you to have long term success.

Remember, if you sprain your ankle PT can be really helpful! It can help you recover faster and more fully so that the chances of having another ankle sprain aren’t as high. Take time to recover fully so you can get back to the things you love to do sooner and safer.

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