Sidelined With an Ankle Injury? Ankle Sprains Explained

It’s easy to take for granted what our feet and ankles do for us on a daily basis. It’s not until we experience an ankle or foot injury that we begin to understand just how much we rely on these anatomy parts to propel us through our daily life. If you’ve recently been experiencing ankle sprains and/or ankle swelling, you’ve likely quickly reached the conclusion that an ankle injury can significantly disrupt your life.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about ankle sprains, including how to get on the fast track to healing, so you can get back on your feet as quickly as possible.

Ankle Anatomy

The ankle is the area (joint) where the lower leg meets the foot. It is often referred to as a complex hinge joint. It can engage in both side-to-side movements, as well as up and down movement. Beyond the various bones that make up the ankle, there are a number of important muscles, ligaments, and tendons involved in the structure of the ankle. These latter components can be thought of as the workhorses of an ankle. They provide strength and stabilization for the entire ankle joint. They also allow a person to engage in movements that require a great deal of flexibility and range of motion.

What are Ankle Sprains?

An ankle can become sprained after a person twists, rolls, or turns their ankle beyond its normal ROM (range of motion). This excessive motion may result in an overly-stretched (sprained) or torn (severely sprained) ligament. The most common type of ligament sprain is known as an inversion injury or inversion sprain. This can occur when a person rolls too far onto the exterior portion of the foot. Less common are eversion sprains, which can occur when a person rolls or twists their ankle or foot too far inward. The most common ligament to become sprained is the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL). This ligament connects the lower leg bone to the top of the foot and is located on the exterior portion of the foot, somewhat to the right of center.

Why Treatment is Important

If a person has a very mild ankle sprain, they may be able to heal completely. A person suffering from ankle sprains can use common treatments such as the RICE method, otherwise known as rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured area.

However, if a person has a more serious sprain such as a ligament tear, it may be necessary to receive more extensive treatment in order for their ankle to heal properly. Ankle sprains may not sound like a serious injury. However, if a person needs more advanced treatment but doesn’t receive it, they may be left with a permanently injured ankle that doesn’t function properly and/or ankle instability.

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

A person can perform little to no activity with a swollen and painful ankle. However, physical therapists will first focus their efforts on reducing a patient’s pain levels, along with any swelling. A PT may recommend that their patient take pain medication at least initially. They may use treatments such as ultrasound which can greatly help reduce pain levels. To provide additional protection and support for when a patient is outside the scope of their therapy session, a PT may also wrap or tape the ankle area.

As the patient’s pain and swelling decrease, a PT will introduce gentle stretching exercises to gradually increase the patient’s range of motion. As their ROM improves, the physical therapist will introduce additional exercises designed to increase muscle strength and improve balance.

Some beginner exercises may include simple exercises, such as:

More advanced exercises may include:

  • Balance training – single leg stance exercises, tandem stance
  • Rebounder exercises on a mini trampoline (to improve balance)
  • Lunges
  • Squats


If you or someone you know needs help recovering from an ankle sprain, we can help! Please contact Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehab at 570-208-2787 or email us at: