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Junior Sport: Tips and Advice (Sprained Ankles)

Ankle sprains are among the most common problems seen in a physiotherapy clinic. The ankle joint, made up of several bones, tendons and ligaments, is an unstable joint that is easily injured. This can happen to footballers during running or jumping, or if they suddenly twist the ankle or put an unusual amount of force on the joint.

A sprain is a ligament tear and is graded in severity. Grade 1 is a minimal to mild tear, Grade 2 is mild to moderate tear and Grade 3 is moderate to severe tear or snap right through the ligament.

Most ankle sprains will result in pain, swelling, stiffness and difficulty walking. The natural
inclination is to rest the foot, but this alone is not always helpful.

Ankle sprains are not to be taken lightly, because if left untreated, they’ll weaken the ankle, making it more likely that you’ll injure the ankle again. Repeated sprains can lead to arthritis, long term pain and weakness in the ankle joint.

For the first 48-72 hours after an ankle sprain the RICER protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate and Referral) should be followed.

Medication may be needed to help control the pain/swelling and you may even need crutches to allow you to move around without putting the foot on the ground.

All of this helps initially, but resting the ankle for too long will result in a joint that is weak and stiff and more prone to injury.

Early physiotherapy assessment and treatment is recommended to help with healing of the ankle and restoring it to its pre-injury state.

If an x-ray is needed our physiotherapists can refer you to have one.

Our physiotherapists will provide you with an active exercise program to regain full movement, strength, balance and co-ordination. This program will be individually tailored and will ensure proper healing of the damaged ligament, help prepare you for return to sport and reduce the risk of future ankle sprains.

Our physiotherapists may also teach you how to tape your ankle or provide you with an ankle stabilising brace, depending on the extent of your injury.

1) Ligament immediately after injury

2) Healthy scar tissue/healing six weeks after early physio and RICER

3) Painful scar tissue at six weeks and delayed recovery without physio and RICER


There are two stages of recovery and each requires specialised treatment:

1) The healing phase:

includes resolution of swelling, bruising and pain mending of ligaments

2) The rehabilitation phase:

includes the restoration of joint range of movement, muscle strength and proprioception.

When can I return to sport?

This depends on the grade of ankle sprain. Some people may expect to return to sport in 2 – 6 weeks, whereas others may require a longer rehabilitation period of a few months. Our physiotherapists will guide you through this process and will make recommendations for when it is safe to return to sport.

Please note: this information should serve as a guide only. When in doubt always seek advice from Southside Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Centre or your GP.

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