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Following an ankle sprain, what’s the most effective way to get back in the game?!?

ankle sprain

Given that Elite Sports Performance & Physical Therapy is located inside Mass Premier Courts, one of the largest basketball facilities in New England, it’s no surprise that we see a lot of patients recovering from ankle and foot injuries.  In fact, one of the most common injuries we see is an ankle sprain.  The sprains we see vary from mild to very severe, but they all have one thing in common: they can by very frustrating to patients of all ages because they can keep people off of the court, field, pitch or diamond, or out of work, often for an extended period of time.

Following an ankle sprain, patients are often told to apply the common R.I.C.E. protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to help reduce the swelling and pain, sometimes followed by simple range-of-motion exercises to be performed at home.  Once their ankle starts to feel better and they can bear full weight through the foot, they gradually return to their previous activities, such as walking, running, cutting, and eventually, a full return to sports.

However, did you know that more than 70% of people who sprain their ankles continue to have problems with them, and up to 80% of people will go on to sprain that same ankle again? Too many sprains can lead to chronic ankle instability, which can become a major problem and in some cases, may even require ankle reconstructive surgery. In addition, many people do not fully recover their previous level of strength, range of motion, or proprioception (the ability to maintain balance and awareness of your body in space), which may increase their risk of injuring their ankle (or another joint) in the future.

So, is there a more effective way to treat ankle sprains to help avoid the ongoing issues and recurrent sprains that occur so often? We certainly think so, and over the past few years we’ve been provided with more compelling evidence that we can definitely help our athletes and patients recover more quickly and effectively from ankle sprains.

For example, a 2013 randomized clinical trial, published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT, 2013; 43(7);456) looked at a group of 74 patients who had sustained an ankle sprain. Half of the patients received a typical home exercise program, while the other half received a combined manual therapy and supervised exercise program performed by a physical therapist.

The patients who received the manual therapy and supervised exercise program demonstrated about a 70% reduction in pain at 4 weeks and more than 92% reduction in pain at 6 months. Those who had received the home exercise program experienced only a 39% reduction in pain at 4 weeks and an 80% reduction at 6 months.

In terms of function, the manual therapy/supervised exercise group’s ability to perform daily activities improved from 66% at the initial exam to 87% at 4 weeks and 97% at 6 months. The home exercise group only improved to 73% at 4 weeks and 88% at 6 months.

Based on this study, the researchers concluded that the manual therapy/supervised exercise program with a physical therapist was superior to a home exercise program alone in the treatment of ankle sprains because the PT program provided better pain relief and improved function over both the short and long term.

As a PT, I’m always very encouraged to see quality research studies supporting what we suspect to be true from our experience working with patients in the clinic. Here at Elite, we utilize a variety of treatment techniques and exercises to ensure that our patients recover as quickly and as fully as possible.  In addition, we utilize research-based testing, such as the Y-Balance Test, to make sure our patients have the strength, ROM, and balance required to safely return to their sport, job, or favorite activity.

So if you’re currently struggling with an ankle sprain that won’t seem to heal as quickly as you’d like, or if you seem to keep spraining the same ankle over and over, let one of our PTs evaluate you and help get you back on the road to speedy and full recovery!