Sprained ankle treatment and tips
An ankle sprain is super common, but what exactly is it?
Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries, but what exactly does it mean to sprain your ankle? “A sprained ankle is an injury that occurs when you roll or twist your ankle,” explains Richmond Football Club physiotherapist James Rance.
“The term ‘sprained’ refers to the damage that occurs to the ligaments that help stabilise the ankle bones.” (A strain, on the other hand, refers to a stretched or torn muscle or tendon.)
Ankle sprains occur when the joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion, usually because of a sudden movement or twist, such as rolling your foot inwards. This force overstretches and tears the supporting ligament.
Ankle sprains are especially common during activities that require running, jumping and sudden direction changes (such as netball).
Symptoms of a sprained ankle
There are several signs you may have sprained your ankle, and they can vary depending on the severity of your injury.
Pain and tenderness
A sprain often causes pain in the joint, particularly when trying to move it or put weight on it (such as walking).
Swelling of the affected ligaments can occur within minutes of the sprain occurring or over several hours.
Bruising or discolouration is possible with an ankle sprain, particularly if it was caused by something hitting the area.
Limited range of motion
You may not be able to move the joint as usual.
If you can’t put weight on your foot or take four steps after the incident, or if the pain hasn’t improved after a day or so of self-management, seek medical advice. Your doctor may need to organise diagnostic tests.
X-rays aren’t necessary for all ankle injuries, but if you’re unable to walk or the pain is ongoing, your doctor may order an X-ray to rule out broken bones.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
An MRI scan captures images of the body’s soft tissue, such as ligaments, and can help identify an ankle sprain.
Computer tomography (CT) scan
A CT scan is an X-ray that produces a 3D image of the body’s structures. It provides a more detailed picture of soft tissue, such as ligaments, than an X-ray or MRI.
Ultrasounds use sound waves to collect images of the body’s soft tissues, including ligaments and soft tendons surrounding joints.
Treatment and care
It’s important to speak to a medical professional about getting you back on your feet - figuratively and literally. “Seeing a physio in a timely manner – 24 to 48hrs post injury – will ensure you have an understanding of your injury and clear rehabilitation plan,” advises James.
RICE [Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation]
After injuring your ankle, use the acronym R-I-C-E as the first line of treatment.
R – Rest. “Get off your legs, use crutches if needed,” says James.
I – Ice. “Ice two or three times for 20 minutes in the first 24 hours.”
C – Compression. “Wrap your ankle with a compression bandage or a brace, but ensure it’s not too tight.” Extend the bandage up the calf and down the foot.
E – Elevate. “Ensure your ankle is above your heart when icing and resting.”
For pain, over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol may help, while anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may help reduce swelling as well as pain. For severe pain, speak to your doctor.
A physio is an excellent port of call to treat a sprained ankle. They can give you exercises to improve joint mobility and strengthen the surrounding muscles, help you tape the area to keep it stable and may apply soft tissue massage to the area. Research suggests adopting this type of regimen early on is an effective way to speed up recovery. As James notes, “Prompt, effective treatment helps get you back to sport!”
The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
Articles you might also like
We've answered all the tricky questions
We've answered all the tricky questions
In partnership with
The partnership between the Richmond Football Club and nib has been strong since 2018. In 2021, nib announced its commitment to equal sponsorship of the club’s AFL and AFLW teams, and support of the Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI) to pave the way for greater representation of women and diversity in sport.
nib continues to support the Richmond’s digital platforms to tell the stories of AFL and AFLW players as a way to encourage all Australians to live health first.