Most people have experienced a rolled ankle in their lifetime, and they can happen any time, anywhere. Although sport, especially those involving a lot of jumping and changing direction, are responsible for many ankle sprains, they can also occur due to something as simple as stepping off a curb incorrectly. Because of this, it is important to know how to look after a rolled ankle to make sure that it heals as quickly as possible.

Most commonly, an ankle sprain occurs when the foot lands on something (another foot, a rock etc) and rolls outwards. This places strain on the ligaments on the outside of the ankle, resulting in stretching or tearing of these ligaments depending on the amount of force involved.

What should I do immediately after spraining my ankle?

The most important thing to do after rolling an ankle is to rest. If you are playing sport, this means stopping immediately. As soon as a ligament is overstretched, swelling will occur. If you continue to play or use the ankle after it has been injured, there is a greater chance that it will bleed and swell excessively and then take much longer to heal.

Ice should then be applied and the ankle elevated as soon as possible. The higher the better – lying down with your foot up is best. This will slow down the swelling and give it the best chance of healing quickly. Applying some form of compression, like a bandage, will also help.

This initial treatment can be used for 48-72 hours after the injury, but it is advisable that you have the ankle assessed as soon as possible. A physiotherapist will be able to diagnose the injury, give you an expected recovery time, formulate a treatment plan to ensure you return to 100% and organise any imaging such as xrays, CT scans or MRI scans if required.

Will I need ongoing treatment?

Long term treatment for an ankle sprain involves returning to full weight bearing and normal walking as soon as possible. Techniques such as massage and joint mobilisation can be used to return the ankle to full movement and an exercise program will be gradually increased in difficulty to make sure you regain your strength and balance.

Some exercises that may be used in the long term rehabilitation of an ankle sprain are:

  1. Balancing on a cushion or folded towel
  2. Hopping/landing drills
  3. Pushing the foot outwards against the resistance of an exercise band

Although ankle sprains are common, they are not all the same, which is why it is important to have your injury properly assessed and diagnosed before beginning a rehabilitation program.