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Navigating the Road to Recovery: How Long Do I Need to Rest My Sprained Ankle?

Introduction:


A sprained ankle is a common injury that can happen to anyone, whether you're an athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply going about your daily activities. One of the first questions that likely comes to mind after a sprain is, "How long do I need to rest my sprained ankle?" In this blog post, we'll explore the intricacies of ankle sprains, the importance of rest in the recovery process, and guidelines for returning to normal activities.





Understanding Ankle Sprains:


The most common occurrence of an ankle sprain occurs when the foot rolls inwards before or upon hitting the ground, causing a stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support the outside of the ankle, often as a result of a sudden twist or turn. The severity of a sprained ankle is typically categorized into three grades:


1. Grade 1 (Mild): Slight stretching of the ligament without tearing.

2. Grade 2 (Moderate): Partial tearing of the ligament with some joint instability.

3. Grade 3 (Severe): Complete tearing of the ligament, leading to significant instability.


However, this injury mechanism may also be associated with damage to the bones, tendons, ligaments on the opposite side of the ankle, cartilage, or structures within the foot or further up the lower leg. The extent of other damage is very important in the scope of recovery time, as a fracture will likely necessitate immobilisation or even surgery, or a cartilage injury (which is often diagnosed later down the road if a sprain is not progressing as quickly as expected) will require a much slower return to dynamic activities such as running. As such, accurate diagnosis is critical to guide proper management 


Keys to Recovery: The Balance Between Rest and Optimal Loading

In the past, acute injury management focused around the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) principle. This has changed in recent years to focus less on rest and more on a level of loading appropriate to the grade of severity and stage of injury. Rest, including activity modification or even periods of non weight bearing, may well be part of the loading paradigm, however excessive rest leads to deconditioning of the system, as well as suboptimal healing of the injured tissue. This is another reason why appropriate guidance from a physiotherapist and accurate diagnosis is so important. 


Specific Physical Therapy Management:

Aside from a gradual progression back to activity, specific rehabilitation exercises aimed at restoring strength, controlling, range of motion and proprioception (the brain’s understanding of the joint’s position in space, which is often impaired following an ankle sprain) can help speed up recovery and decrease the likelihood of reinjury. 


Manual therapy techniques and taping may also be effective in decreasing pain in the early stages, allowing earlier loading. 


Conclusion:

The time required for a successful return to function will differ greatly depending on the severity and type of injury sustained. For an isolated grade 1 sprain this might be 7-10 days, whereas for a grade 3 sprain, or an injury with significant cartilage damage, this might be 3-4 months. The goals of the individual will also impact this time frame, as those with more higher level athletic or functional goals might need to rehabilitate their ankle to a higher level prior to returning to sport. 


While the ankle sprain is often thought to be an innocuous, self-limiting condition that will get better on its own, accurate diagnosis and guided rehabilitation can allow for a quicker recovery and better long-term function. If you’ve suffered an ankle sprain and not sure what to do, see your physical therapist and get started on the road to recovery.


If you are interested in learning more about ankle injuries, have a listen to the following podcast:

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