Whenever I see a patient with an ankle sprain, I tell them our biggest goal is to make sure this is their last ankle sprain. While spraining your ankle can seem like it is no big deal, an alarming amount of first time ankle sprains turn into chronic ankle instability with repetitive sprains. I think a major reason for many people ending up with chronic ankle instability is not taking care of the first ankle sprain.
A onetime ankle sprain can have a major impact on an athlete’s season, but chronic ankle instability can have a major impact on someone’s health long past playing sports. An article in The Journal of Athletic Training in 2015 showed that college aged students with chronic ankle instability were less physically active than those with stable ankles. This could set the stage for a sedentary lifestyle and increased likelihood of developing health issues later in life.
How do we prevent chronic ankle instability? First you have to start with good rehab. Research supports basic care for an ankle sprain includes rest, ice, and elevation. Rehab usually follows with ankle stretching and strengthening exercises. First the ligaments need time to recover , then the leg needs to be strengthened and challenged before it’s safe return to activity. An excellent rehab program will then continue with dynamic exercises working on balance and hip strength. Ankle injury prevention programs including balance exercises have also been shown to reduce risk of ankle injury. A simple test I always include is checking to see if an athlete can perform a single leg hop with their injured ankle as well as they can with their uninjured side before returning to sports.
Following rehab, it is essential to continue with activities aimed at avoiding re-injury. One of the most important aspects of reducing re-injury, and therefore the risk of developing chronic ankle instability, is to continue with therapy exercises. A new article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine proves that continuing with post injury exercises reduces the risk of re-injury. But what they found was that it took 900 minutes of exercise to reach a level where your re-injury risk is reduced. So keep doing those exercises!
Please take the time to address your ankle sprain before it becomes chronic. We see far too many patients with a cascade of problems related to failing to receive good rehab following their first injury. For more information about our ankle and sports medicine services, contact one of our therapy locations.