Ankle Sprains: Physical Therapy Now Can Prevent Surgery Later

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, and are often treated at home. Summit physical therapist Teresa Werth explains how physical therapy after your first sprain may prevent a chain of subsequent injuries that may necessitate surgical treatment.

You could be racing down a basketball court or taking a leisurely walk when it happens: your foot lands the wrong way and turns or twists too far. In some cases, ligaments are stretched; in others, bones are damaged as well. In all cases, once you’ve sprained your ankle, your risk of subsequent sprains goes up—and that’s what concerns Summit physical therapist Teresa Werth.

“Most people think ankle sprains are no big deal,” she explains. “After all, this is a very common injury. What people don’t understand is that the greatest risk factor for an ankle sprain is a previous ankle sprain. Once that ankle has been sprained, it is much more likely to be sprained again. Often, when I see patients for ankle pain, it’s because they’ve already sprained their ankle four or five times. Every sprain may do additional damage. And after multiple sprains, there’s a much greater chance that surgical treatment will be needed. If these patients had come to me right after their first sprain, it’s likely that therapy could have helped them regain ankle strength and balance to avoid future sprains.”

American Family Physician magazine reports that teens and young adults have the highest rates of ankle sprain, with the peak incidence occurring between the ages of 15 and 19. Nearly half of sprains happen during athletic activity—basketball is the biggest culprit.

Because the first sprain is the greatest risk factor for a subsequent acute sprain, prevention strategies are a critical part of rehabilitation. Summit physical therapists help patients regain ankle strength and balance through exercises designed to help prevent future injury.

“A day or two of rest and ice will help to reduce pain and swelling, but then it’s beneficial to start with range-of-motion and strengthening exercises soon after to improve recovery,” notes Werth. “After a sprain, your balance and reaction time are also affected. These areas are a major focus of therapy to help prevent that ankle from rolling again. In fact, rehabilitation exercises for ankle sprains don’t just reduce the risk of future ankle injuries, they also reduce the risk of other lower limb injuries. In addition, we provide education about taping, ankle braces, and sport-specific warm-up exercises that can help protect athletes from another sprain when they return to their sport.”

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