How to Treat Ankle Sprains With In-Home Physical Therapy
By: Dr. Abe Kopolovich, DPT, MBA, JD-IP
Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries. It happens when you roll, twist or turn your ankle outside of its normal range of motion, which causes your ligaments to get stretched or torn, either partially or completely.
According to Physiopedia, the ankle joint is the second one most likely to be injured in sport, particularly in basketball. So if you are an active person, you’re likely to experience this kind of sprain at some point in your life.
Although they are a nuisance, ankle sprains are relatively harmless and easily treatable with over-the-counter medicine and physical therapy, unless otherwise indicated. Read more to find out the best ways to identify and correctly recover from this injury.
Ankle Sprains Symptoms
A sprained ankle will show different symptoms and characteristics depending on the severity of the injury. The Mayo Clinic compiled an easy list of signs you might have injured your ankle, which includes:
- Pain, especially when you bear weight on the affected foot
- Tenderness when you touch the ankle
- Restricted range of motion
- Instability in the ankle
- Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury
You might be able to take care of your ankle on your own, but it might be best to consult with your doctor first and get an evaluation to discard any significant damage. If your symptoms continue for more than four to six weeks, you may have a chronic ankle sprain.
Do Ankle Sprains Heal on Their Own?
For a regular ankle sprain, over-the-counter pain relievers and sufficient rest should be enough to recover, but if you don’t work on regaining movement and strength, you may be prone to future recurrent injuries.
In-home physical therapy exercises can help. But before you get moving, you should follow three primary steps, as stated by the Physical Therapy Guidelines for Lateral Ankle Sprain of Massachusetts General Hospital:
- Rest: Rest for the first 24 hours after injury. Weight bearing as tolerated (WBAT) with assistive devices, such as crutches, may help with pain management.
- Ice/ Cold packs: 10-15 minutes- 3 times per day, or more frequently for pain and swelling management.
- Compression: Use an elastic bandage to limit swelling.
Physical Therapy Exercises For Sprained Ankles
Ankle Stretches for Pain
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front. Loop a towel/rope/band around the ball of your foot and pull the towel stretching the back of your calf. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Standing calf ankle stretches
Facing a wall, put your hands against the wall at about eye level. Keep the sore foot back and your good foot forward, and the heel of your injured foot firmly on the floor. Turn your injured foot slightly inward (as if you were pigeon-toed) and slowly lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf.
To Improve Range of Motion
You can do this exercise sitting or lying down. Pretend you are writing each of the letters of the alphabet with your foot. This will move your ankle in all directions. Do this 2-3 times.
Place your injured foot under your good foot. Put the heel of your good foot on top of the toes of your injured foot. Gently pull your toes and ankle towards your face on the injured ankle and the good foot can provide resistance on top. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets of 10 exercises.
Resisted Plantar flexion
Place your injured foot on top of your good foot. Push down into the floor and your good foot can provide resistance to the movement. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets of 10 exercises.
Balance Exercises for Ankle Sprain
Standing, balance yourself on both feet behind a chair. Rise up on your toes, hold for 5 seconds and then lower yourself down. Repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets of 10. When this becomes easy then you can progress to single heel raise.
Single leg heel raise
Stand without any support and attempt to balance on your injured leg. Begin with your eyes open and then try to perform the exercise with your eyes closed. Hold the single-leg position for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Rock back on your heels so that your toes come up off the ground. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets of 10.
Ankle Strengthening and Mobility Exercises
Jump rope landing on both legs for 10 minutes. If things go well then try on only the injured leg for 5 minutes.
Single Leg hopping
Lift your good leg off the ground. Hop up and down on your injured leg starting off with low hops and build them up. Do 10 hops. Repeat 3 times.