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Ankle sprains: symptoms, causes and treatment

Published: 05 December 2017 - Injury Treatment and Prevention

Image of a man with ankle injury

What is an ankle sprain?

The role of your ankle ligaments are to hold the ankle bones together to keep you ankle stable during activity. An ankle sprain occurs when one of the ligaments of the ankle is overstretched or compressed resulting in a tear.

How do you injure ankle ligaments?

Ligament injuries around the ankle joint are among the most common sporting injuries. This is particularly true for sports that include quick changes of direction, sudden stopping, and pivoting maneuvers. Sometimes awkwardly tripping on a curb or rock can also cause an ankle sprain.

In the event of an ankle sprain, the mechanism of injury will give an important clue as to which ligaments are sprained. Generally speaking, the lateral (outside) ligaments of the ankle are involved in over 95% of ankle sprains. This occurs with an ‘inversion’ movement, whereby we roll the ankle inwards.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle 

Ankle joint sprains typically result in pain, bruising and swelling over the outside and/or inside part of the ankle. Depending on the severity of the injury, the ability to bear weight on the ankle can also be limited.

How is an ankle sprain treated?

Unfortunately, ankle injuries are not always well managed in the acute stage, often people return to activity and sport too early. As a result, this leads to a high rate of repeated ankle sprains and chronic ankle laxity, which ultimately could require surgery.

It is crucial that you employ the RICER rules for the first 48 hours following the injury. These are:

R:       Rest from sport

I:        Ice through a wet towel

C:       Compression bandage

E:       Elevate the ankle above horizontal

R:       Refer to a physiotherapist

Your physiotherapist will assess your ankle to determine the severity of injury and determine whether an x-ray is necessary. They will then provide you with a specific individualised ankle rehabilitation program to get you back to full function.

Physiotherapy management may include:

  • Supporting the ankle with tape or a brace
  • Crutches to help you move around while the ligaments heal
  • Ultrasound treatment
  • Soft tissue release  and joint mobilisation techniques after the acute healing stage
  • Specific strengthening, mobility and balance exercises

If you need further advice regarding the prevention of ankle sprains, or require treatment for an injury, contact your local Back In Motion practice to book your free initial assessment.

Further reading: Why does my knee hurt when I run?

Further reading: Why do I have heel pain?

Further reading: What is a tendinopathy?



Dylan Clifford - Physiotherapist at Back In Motion Camberwell

Although born and raised in Melbourne, Dylan completed his Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand in 2012. He joined Back In Motion Camberwell in January 2013. Dylan is particularly interested in sports physiotherapy, along with the other aspects of musculoskeletal physiotherapy. He loves playing and watching most team sports (including passionately following his AFL team, Hawthorn), going to the gym, socialising with friends and enjoying a good movie.