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  • Writer's pictureAscend Physical Therapy

Ankle Sprains and Instability

Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries. Based on emergency room visits, it is estimated that there are about 2 million ankle sprains annually in the U.S.. While ankle sprains are typically more common in young and active individuals, about half of the emergency room visits were not sports related implying that ankle sprains occur in a wide range of ages and activity levels. 74% of people who have had a sprain have persisting symptoms for 1.5-4 years after the initial injury. In athletes the re-injury rate has been reported as high as 80%. In fact, ankle injuries are so likely recur that the most common reason for experiencing an ankle sprain is a previous ankle sprain.

An ankle sprain results in impaired proprioception, or awareness, of your ankle that can lead to decreased balance, strength and stability with all tasks. People are more likely to be afraid of performing certain activities or movements simply because they don’t feel secure enough in their ankle. Repeated sprains can lead to a strong sensation of looseness or instability in the ankle that can affect every part of your life. People with a history of ankle sprains, instability, pain, and swelling are said to have chronic ankle instability (CAI).

If you find yourself in a situation where you have constant ankle pain or frequent sprains it is important to get assessed by a medical professional to be properly diagnosed. If you have been diagnosed with CAI or have a history of ankle sprains there are several things to focus on in order to see improvement:

  • Strengthening

  • Balance

  • Functional activities

Strengthening the ankle is important because oftentimes pain can limit strength and causes the muscle to weaken over time. When the pain finally subsides you can be left with a weakened ankle that is not able to hold your foot in place when you make sharp turns or quick movements. This is especially important when you consider that many people with sprains have weakened and stretched ligaments that require even greater strength in the ankle to overcome. Exercises such as heel raises, resistive band movements, and whole body movements such as squats and lunges can be a great starting point for strengthening your ankle.

Balance is an equally important part of rehabilitation as your proprioception or ankle awareness is usually changed following a sprain. If you don’t know how your ankle is positioned, it’s hard for your body to know what muscles to turn on. Rebuilding the connection between your mind and your ankle is essential to being able to return to your normal activities without fear or risk of reinjury. Simple exercises such as standing tandem (one foot in front of the other), standing on a BOSU ball, or even standing on one leg can be a great way to start regaining balance and stability.

When you have a strong foundation in balance and strength the last step is to begin working towards returning to your functional activities. A skilled Physical Therapist should be able to adjust and modify exercises over time to make them more closely resemble your tasks whether it be returning to playing a sport, jogging around the neighborhood, or going up and down stairs in your home. This is the most important step as it ensures that you can go back to living your life without fears of a future sprain.

A trained medical professional will incorporate all these aspects of care, along with focus on reframing any fear of pain or injury, in order to help you return to all the things you love doing.


Author: Edgar Vargas, PT, DPT

Dr. Edgar Vargas, PT, DPT received his Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with emphasis on Exercise Science from California State University, Long Beach graduating Cum Laude. He later received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Chapman University. He has clinical experience in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings including orthopedic and neurologic. Through his treatments, Edgar aims to treat the patient as a whole by listening to and understanding the individual needs of the patient. He seeks to educate each patient so that they may become confident in managing their conditions.Outside of the clinic, he spends his time rock climbing, traveling, and relaxing with his family and friends.

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