Sprained Ankle: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and more!

A sprained ankle (or ankle sprain) is the term given to a condition that is characterised by tearing and damage to the ligaments and soft tissue in the ankle region. This typically occurs in association with a traumatic force such as a rolled ankle. The lateral ligament of the ankle is the most commonly damaged structure.


A ligament is a firmband of connective tissue that helps to hold adjacent bones together. The lateral ligament of the ankle has three strong bands of connective tissue which connect the calcaneus (heel bone) and talus to the fibula (outer lower leg bone) and prevents excessive inward turning of the ankle (inversion). When there is an excessive inversion movement of the ankle that is beyond what the ligament can tolerate, a partial or complete tear in the ligament may occur. Sometimes, a sprained ankle can result in a complete rupture of the ligament causing marked pain and disability.


An ankle sprain often occurs in association with rigorous activities that involve rapid changes of direction or landing and jumping, particularly on uneven surfaces. Some sports that might increase the risk of a sprained ankle include netball, volleyball, football and basketball. The typical cause of this injury is a combination of turning the foot inwards and pointing the foot downwards. People who experiencemultiple ankle sprains over time losestability of their joint,increasing the likelihood of the individual rolling their ankle even while performing trivial activities or standing on flat surfaces.


Some patients with a sprained ankle may hear a tearing sound, click or snap when the injury takes place. This may be associated with significant pain and swelling at the outer aspect of the ankle. In minor cases, the patient can typically continue activity; however will often experience pain, stiffness and swelling when resting after activity.

In severe cases, swellingonset can be rapid. Depending on the severity of pain, the patient may also be unable to bear weight on the affected limb. Bruising may also develop over a number of days. Pain on firmly touching the affected ligament is also typically present.


Diagnosis of a sprained ankle is typically possible following an appropriate objective and subjective examination from a qualified physiotherapist. To confirm diagnosis and rule out other conditions (such as fractures), the use of an x-ray, ultrasound, CT or MRI scanmay be required.


In mostcases (where the sprain is moderate or minor), the patient will be able to return to normal activityin approximately 2 to 6 weeks with ideal treatment. In patients with more severe injuries a longer rehabilitation period will be required for an ideal outcome.

Risk Factors

There are numerous factors that can increase the probability of an ankle sprain. Some of these include:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor balance
  • Joint laxity
  • A history of previous ankle injury
  • Poor ankle strength
  • Inappropriate footwear

Physiotherapy Treatment

Physiotherapy treatment is vital to ensure an optimal outcome. Somecommonly used treatment techniques may include:

  • Dry needling
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Ankle taping or bracing
  • The use of crutches
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Electrotherapy
  • Joint mobilization
  • Footwear advice
  • Activity modification advice
  • Home exercises
  • Education

Appropriate rehabilitation is essential to optimise the healing process, ensuring an optimal outcome with lower chances of recurrence.

PhysioAdvisor can Empower you to Take Control of Your Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle can be frustrating and debilitating impairing a patients mobility and preventing participation in sports, work or activities. With inappropriate management, pain can persist for many months or in some cases years, adversely affecting physical and emotional health.

PhysioAdvisor has years of experience empowering patients to take control of their sprained ankle. Their world leading, evidence based, step by step injury rehabilitation guide for a sprained ankle(complete with initial, intermediate and advanced rehabilitation exercises) providescomprehensive advice to change perpetuating factors, hasten healing and ultimately speed recovery from this injury. All articles are created by qualified and experienced physiotherapists giving you the tools to take control of your injury. Their range of physiotherapy products (such as ankle braces or supports) can further enhance recovery. For more information, visit their website.

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