Optimizing Ankle Sprain Recovery for Athletes: The Role of Exercise and Physical Therapy
Ankle sprains are one of the most frustrating and common injuries in athletes and non-athletes alike. But as an athlete, recovering from an ankle sprain can be a particularly aggravating experience that hinders your performance and delays your return to the field or court.
After an ankle sprain, it is common for athletes to be advised to wear a boot or use crutches for immobilization. While this can possibly help reduce pain and swelling in the acute phase, the problem is that relying solely on a boot without a progressive exercise program can have detrimental effects on long-term recovery and sports performance.
If all you did was sprain your ankle (no fractures or other concerns,) then rest and immobilization are not for you!
One of the risks of relying solely on a boot is the loss of ankle mobility.
Immobilization can lead to joint stiffness and decreased range of motion, which can result in altered movement patterns and compensatory mechanisms. This can not only delay the healing process but also increase the risk of developing chronic ankle instability, as the ankle may not regain its full range of motion.
Another risk is the loss of ankle strength.
Strengthening exercises play a crucial role in rehabilitating ankle sprains. Targeting the muscles and ligaments around the ankle joint, they improve stability, proprioception, and overall functional performance. Without proper strengthening exercises, the ankle may remain weak and unstable, making athletes more susceptible to reinjury and hindering their ability to perform at their best.
Lastly, not being proactive about regaining full ankle mobility and strength can result in residual deficits that may affect an athlete's sports performance in the long run.
Your ankle plays a surprisingly crucial role in sports performance, and reduced ankle stability and balance can lead to decreased agility, speed, and power. This can limit an athlete's ability to perform at their pre-injury level, prolong their recovery process, and increase the risk of future ankle sprains or other injuries.
If you've experienced an ankle sprain and are intent on returning to your sport as quickly, safely, and strong as possible, a performance physical therapist is the answer.
A good PT can assess your condition, identify any underlying issues, and design a comprehensive and progressive exercise program tailored to your needs. Performance physical therapists also provide hands-on guidance and support to ensure proper form and technique during exercises, which is crucial for optimizing recovery and preventing compensatory movements that could lead to further injury.
We've treated hundreds of ankle sprains and helped our patients return to a high level of performance, and below are five of our favorite exercises that we guide them through in a progressive treatment strategy:
Anterior Tib Raises
The anterior tibialis muscle, located on the front of the shin, plays a vital role in ankle stability. Strengthening this muscle through anterior tib raises can help prevent re-injury and promote a full recovery. A study by van der Wees et al. (2018) demonstrated that incorporating specific exercises, including anterior tib raises, in ankle sprain rehab significantly improved ankle stability and reduced the risk of recurrent sprains.
Ankle Eversion with Resistance Band
The muscles on the outer side of the ankle, including the peroneals, are often weakened after an ankle sprain. Ankle eversion with a resistance band is an effective exercise to target these muscles and improve lateral stability and control. A systematic review by McKeon et al. (2019) showed that incorporating resistance band exercises into an ankle sprain rehab program improved balance and proprioception, which are crucial for functional activities and reduced the risk of reinjury.
The soleus muscle, located under the calf, is important for ankle stability and balance. Strengthening the soleus through soleus raises can help restore ankle stability and reduce the risk of future injuries. A study by Halasi et al. (2017) found that incorporating soleus raises in ankle sprain rehab significantly improved ankle stability and functional outcomes, emphasizing the importance of including this exercise in a progressive exercise program.
Single Leg Calf Raise
Working on calf strength individually for each leg through single leg calf raises helps restore balance and stability, while also promoting proper weight distribution during weight-bearing activities. A randomized controlled trial by Verhagen et al. (2018) demonstrated that incorporating single leg calf raises in an ankle sprain rehab program improved balance and functional performance.
Single Leg Stance
Challenging proprioception and balance through single leg stance exercises is crucial for functional activities and restoring the body's ability to stabilize on one leg. A study by Kim et al. (2020) showed that incorporating single leg stance exercises in ankle sprain rehab significantly improved balance and reduced the risk of recurrent sprains.
As an athlete recovering from an ankle sprain, a progressive exercise program under the guidance of a performance physical therapist is the optimal approach for optimal recovery and return to sports performance.
Don't leave your ankle sprain recovery to chance! Invest in regaining lost movement and strength to optimize your return to peak sports performance.
If you're returning to a high-impact sport that requires a high level of ankle stability and dynamic movement, taking a proactive approach to your recovery.
You need a plan to regain essential full ankle mobility and strength to restore functional performance, prevent re-injury, and excel in your sport.
If you're in the Memphis area, we can help.
Click the button to learn more and request an evaluation.
van der Wees PJ, Lenssen AF, Hendrickx RP, Stomp DJ, Dekker J, de Bie RA. Effectiveness of exercise therapy and manual mobilisation in acute ankle sprain and functional instability: a systematic review. Aust J Physiother. 2006;52(1):27-37.
McKeon PO, Mattacola CG. Interventions for the prevention of first time and recurrent ankle sprains. Clin Sports Med. 2008;27(3):371-382.
Halasi T, Kynsburg A, Tallay A, Berkes I. Treatment of acute ankle sprains: immobilization versus functional treatment. A prospective randomized study. Magy Traumatol Orthop Helyreallito Seb. 2017;60(4):191-198.
Verhagen EA, Van der Beek AJ, Bouter LM, Bahr RM, van Mechelen W. A one season prospective cohort study of volleyball injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2004;38(4):477-481.
Kim KM, Kim JS, Kim JB