An ankle sprain refers to the tearing of the ligaments of the ankle. Most sprained ankles occur in the lateral ligaments on the outside of the ankle and can range from tiny tears in the fibers that make up the ligament to complete tears through the tissue. This is an extremely common injury which affects many people during a wide variety of activities and can happen in the setting of an ankle fracture.
If there is a complete tear of the ligaments, the ankle may become unstable after the initial injury phase passes. Over time, this instability can result in damage to the bones and cartilage of the ankle joint. Without proper treatment and rehabilitation, a more severe sprain can weaken your ankle, making it more likely that you will injure it again. Repeated ankle sprains can lead to long-term problems, including chronic ankle pain, arthritis, and ongoing instability.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation
Rehabilitation exercises are used to prevent stiffness, increase ankle strength, and prevent chronic ankle problems. These may include:
Early motion exercises that involve range-of-motion or controlled movements of your ankle without resistance.
Strengthening exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons in the front and back of your leg.
Proprioception (balance) training. Poor balance often leads to repeat sprains and ankle instability. Balance boards are often used in this form of rehabilitation.
Endurance and agility exercises. Once you are pain-free, other exercises may be added, such as agility drills. Running in progressively smaller figures-of-8 is excellent for agility and calf and ankle strength. The goal is to increase strength and range of motion as balance improves over time.
Surgical treatment for ankle sprains is rare. Surgery is reserved for injuries that fail to respond to nonsurgical treatment, and for patients who experience persistent ankle instability after months of rehabilitation and nonsurgical treatment.