You’re in good company if you’re struggling with a sprained ankle. Researchers estimate about a third of all sports medicine injuries are ankle sprains, which makes them the most common musculoskeletal injury.
When you have a sprained ankle, it’s important to ensure it heals properly if you want to avoid long-term complications, like chronic ankle instability, which can trigger chronic swelling, inflammation, and pain.
One of the ways you can avoid complications after an ankle sprain is by not jumping back into exercise too soon. Our board-certified providers at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers offer a full line of podiatric services to treat many foot and ankle issues, including ankle sprains.
Our providers also believe in the power of patient education. That’s why our team created this informative guide about exercise after a sprained ankle and how you can prevent chronic instability from developing. Here’s what you need to know.
Your ankle has three major bones held together by ligaments and tendons. These pieces work together in your ankle joint to help you move.
Unfortunately, any displacements in this complex joint, even simply rolling or twisting your ankle, can result in an injury. If you injure the ligaments, you develop an ankle sprain.
There are three types of ankle sprains: Grade I, Grade II, and Grade III. The grade of your sprain describes the severity of damage to your ligaments and the impact on your mobility/ankle function injury.
If you suspect an ankle sprain, be sure to have your ankle evaluated by experienced providers. The team at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers works to make sure you get fast and effective treatment.
Exercising too soon after your injury or progressing too quickly can cause more ankle damage, delay your recovery, and lead to long-term complications like chronic instability.
The best way to learn when you can start exercising after spraining your ankle is by meeting with a podiatrist who can evaluate the severity of your sprain and make personalized recommendations for treatment and activity.
Generally, performing specific ankle-strengthening exercises as part of your rehabilitation (rehab) after a sprain is a good way to start. These rehab exercises promote complete healing of your sprain and reduce your risk of reinjury.
Again, be sure to talk to your provider before starting any exercise. Early in your ankle sprain rehab (1-7 days after your injury), the goal is to reduce swelling and pain.
In this early period, rest and wear any compression bandages recommended. If you have a Grade III sprain, your provider may prescribe a walking boot or crutches. You’ll also want to elevate your ankle and take over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, to help reduce swelling and pain.
Most of the time, your provider will caution against exercise during this phase or restrict you to simple isometric exercises, like pushing your foot on a wall while keeping your ankle immobile.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you can begin intermediate exercises 3-7 days after your injury or when any swelling and pain begin to subside. How long this phase lasts is also based on your unique injury.
You can start performing light ankle exercises to promote better ankle flexibility and strength. Your provider may recommend non-weight bearing cardiovascular activities, like swimming, 3-5 days a week to help keep up your fitness.
Once you’ve boosted your ankle strength and stability and have normal ankle flexibility again, you move into your final phase of ankle rehab, which can last from a few days for a simple sprain to several weeks or months for a severe Grade III sprain.
You’ll start by learning functional or sport-specific exercises to help you prepare for your daily activities, exercises, and physical activities. During this phase, you’ll continue building on exercises from phase two.
As you approach the end of this phase, your provider lets you know when you’re ready to return to your normal exercises and physical activities.
If you return to exercise too soon, you risk developing chronic ankle instability. About 20% of people with acute ankle sprains develop chronic ankle instability, which increases your risk of re-spraining your ankle.
At Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers, your provider assesses your injury and creates a customized treatment based on your symptoms and grade of injury. They’ll also review your progress and let you know when it’s safe to return to your normal exercise routine.
Learn more about ankle sprains and when it’s safe to exercise after an injury by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone at Arlington/Mansfield Foot & Ankle Centers.