Lateral Ankle Sprains

What is a lateral ankle sprain?

A lateral ankle sprain is where at least one of the ligaments located around the outer side of the ankle (lateral side) becomes damaged by being forced beyond it’s normal range of movement.
The severity of a sprain is graded based on the level of damage incurred to the ligaments, ranging from a strain (mild), to a partial tear (moderate), to a complete tear (severe). When there is a complete tear, there can also sometimes be damage to the bone.

What causes a lateral ankle sprain?

A lateral ankle sprain is an injury which is usually caused by a sudden twisting, turning, or rolling of the ankle to one side. The ankle joint is forced past its normal range of movement, which causes the ligaments in the lateral side of the ankle to be stretched or torn.

Sprains are particularly common in sports that require quick changes of direction and jumping, however they can also be caused from slipping on an uneven pavement or stepping awkwardly off a curb. They can affect all age groups from young to old.

What are the symptoms of a lateral ankle sprain?

After an ankle injury, the general range of movement and strength will vary between people, however, symptoms may include:

  • Immediate pain which can be at the outer and inner side of the ankle
  • Swelling and/or bruising around the outside of the ankle.
  • The feeling of weakness or instability of the foot and ankle.
  • Tenderness to touch around the outside of the ankle.
  • Difficulty standing or walking on the affected foot.
  • Stiffness in the ankle joint, made worse with periods of rest and eased with gentle ankle movements.

How is a lateral ankle injury diagnosed?

No matter how long ago your injury occurred your Podiatrist will conduct a thorough examination of your foot and ankle in order to start you off on the appropriate course of treatment and rehabilitation. Grading of the sprain may include an Ultrasound, and if a fracture is suspected then an x-ray or MRI may be necessary.

How can a Podiatrist help me with my lateral ankle sprain?

Most lateral ankle ligament injuries can be treated conservatively, however, without treatment, recurrent sprains may occur which can lead to chronic instability problems within the ankle. Treatment from a Podiatrist will aim to:

  • Reduce pain, swelling and inflammation.
  • Regain full joint range of movement of the foot and ankle.
  • Strengthen your foot, ankle and lower limb.
  • Improve your proprioception, agility and balance.
  • Improve your technique and function.
  • Minimise your chance of re-injury.

Generally a 3-4 Phase approach will be initiated in order to get you back to full activity.

Phase 1 – Acute care

This includes rest from sport, compression, and regular icing to limit swelling. Your Podiatrist may suggest a short course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief (you should consult a GP or Pharmacist before taking any medication). Also, a small boot or ankle brace may be prescribed to provide extra support and comfort. If you are unable to weight-bear, then crutches may be necessary for a few days.

Phase 2

Includes range of movement exercises, stretching, and a focused strengthening programme for the foot, ankle and lower limb. In addition, balance and proprioception exercises are essential to prevent a recurrence of injury.

Phase 3

Once your pain, strength, and range of movement improve, the next phase involves sports/activity specific exercises. A gradual return to running and multidirectional activities. All of these agility exercises are designed to test the ankle and prevent sprains from reoccurring.

How long does a lateral ankle ligament sprain take to heal?

General healing times are variable but you can expect a 2-6 week time frame on average for healing of the ligament to occur. However, based on the severity of your injury, healing times can extend past 6 weeks. Once your ligaments have healed, rehabilitation of the ankle may then continue for a longer period of time to reduce the risk of recurrence. 

Here at Riverside Podiatry we have a step by step program aimed to successfully examine, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate ankle injuries to get you back on your feet and back on the field. Come in for an appointment today!