When to go see a physio for a sprained ankle

Person's legs showing their foot as they twist an ankle

A sprained ankle is a relatively common injury particularly for those participating in contact and non-contact sports, but rolled ankles can also occur from injury in normal day to day life.

It's important to identify the cause of your ankle pain, and then seek appropriate treatment.

If you are suffering from an ankle sprain, you may be wondering 'do I need physio for a sprained ankle?'

Let's take a look at what causes an ankle sprain, and the options for treatment.

Causes of a sprained ankle

The ankle consists of three bones, as well as tendons, muscles and ligaments.

The ankle joint acts like a hinge to allow movement of the foot in upwards and downwards movements, and some range of rotation.

The ankle ligaments are fibrous bands which support the ankle joints and keep them stabilised.

When these ligaments are overstretched or torn, the result is a twisted or sprained ankle.

Often, sprained ankles occur when an individual rolls their ankle on an uneven surface, such as by running or jumping on unstable ground.

Sprained ankles are common among athletes, but can occur in everyday life when the ankle twists too far.

Identifying a sprained ankle

Ankle pain may be caused by a sprain to the ankle ligaments, but this is not the only possible explanation.

To ensure you receive the correct treatment, it's important you get an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle may include:

  • Trouble bearing weight on the affected foot
  • Ankle pain
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Visible bruising
  • Popping sound or sensation at time of injury
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Tender to the touch

Alternatively, the cause of your pain may be a fractured or broken bone in the ankle.

There are three bones in the ankle, and when one or more of them breaks, you will experience some of the same symptoms as an ankle sprain.

A fractured ankle may also lead to damage to the ligaments.

As well as severe pain, swelling and bruising, other symptoms of a broken ankle may include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the ankle
  • Misshapen ankle (beyond regular swelling associated with a sprain)
  • Cracking sound at time of injury
  • Being unable to walk on foot at all
  • Pain may extend up the lower leg to the knee

Treatment of a broken ankle varies from treatment of a sprained ankle, so it's vital that you seek an accurate diagnosis from a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or physiotherapist.

A physio wrapping a patient's ankle in medical tape

Risk factors

Some people are tempted to let their sprained ankle heal on its own, but this increases the chance of injuring yourself later down the track.

Once you have suffered an ankle injury, there is a higher chance of reinjury.

Without undertaking treatment for your ankle sprain, you increase the chance of ongoing chronic ankle instability and pain in the injured ankle.

The best way to avoid your ankle injury becoming a chronic condition is to seek treatment right away. In very severe cases or if left untreated, ankle sprains may require surgery.

Do I need physio for a sprained ankle?

Physio is very effective at treating ankle sprains.

Physical rehabilitation can assist with your recovery and minimise the risk of repeat injury in the future.

Even mild sprains can cause issues down the track, so it's best to seek advice from a physiotherapist in the early stages following injury.

A physiotherapist will undertake an assessment of the injury to identify which ligaments are injured and determine if there is something else going on, such as a fracture.

Once the diagnosis of ankle sprain is given and broken bones ruled out, your physio will be able to assist in treating your injury.

Your physio will prescribe exercises for you to do to help mobilise your injured ankle, as well as to reduce pain and swelling.

They may use soft tissue massage and other manual manipulation exercises, as well as instructing you on exercises to do at home.

If you will benefit from taping or an ankle brace, your physio can assist with this.

A qualified physiotherapist will support you with your return to usual activity, help to strengthen your ankle and reduce the chance of recurrent ankle sprains.

Physical therapy can reduce your recovery time and ensure you're on the right track with your healing process.

Physio lifts an older patient's leg

Other treatment

Physiotherapy can be extremely beneficial for treating a sprained ankle, but there are a few other things you can do to help relieve pain and swelling in the interim:

  • Rest and avoid triggering activities
  • Elevate your foot
  • Ice the injury for 15 to 20 minutes at a time every few hours
  • Anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief

Sprained ankles are a common injury, especially for athletes.

While the recurrence rate for sprained ankles is high (around 70%), exercise therapy is proven to help treat ankle sprains and reduce the chance of chronic ankle instability and reinjury.

Your physiotherapist will use specific exercises to reduce pain and inflammation, help strengthen the ankle joint and ligaments, and avoid recurrent injury.

Here at APM, we want to help you feel your best and have confidence in returning to sport or other activity following an injury.

Our team of highly qualified physiotherapists can offer you a personalised treatment plan to help you recover from your ankle injury and avoid it becoming a chronic condition.

Don't put up with pain any longer.

Reach out to the friendly team here at APM and find out how we can help you feel the best in your body.

If you’re keen to develop and implement strategies to assist with your pain management, contact your local APM health professional.

You can book an appointment with an APM Physiotherapist online or in your local area by calling 0800 967 522.

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