What is an ankle sprain?

If an excessive force is applied to an ankle, the ligament which holds the bones of the foot to the bones of the leg, may become stretched or torn.

The main parts of your body which prevent you going over on your foot are:

1.  The ligaments at the ankle joint

2.  The muscles are the second line of defence in preventing ankle injuries. Their protective role around the ankle is called ‘Proprioception’ and can be likened to ‘Eircom Phonewatch’ –

When your house is under attack, an alarm goes off , this alarm is Ankleconnected to the phone-watch centre which in turn sends a message to the key-holder who in turn acts and hopefully intercepts the burglar.

Similarly when you are in danger of going over on your ankle a stretch occurs in  little receptors in your muscles. These receptors instantaneously relay a message to your brain, which in turn stimulates the muscles around your ankle joint making them contract.

If this system is in good working order hopefully no injury will occur.

3.      Joints / bones of the foot allow some adjustment of the foot on the ground.

Why do ankle sprains occur ?

There are a number of reasons why you may sprain your ankle. In some cases it is just an unfortunate incident, but in others there may be an underlying reason:

  • A person may land crookedly on their foot by stepping on the edge of a kerb, or landing awkwardly after jumping up for a ball.
  • A person may have an impaired propriceptive system (the telephone lines may be down) because of previous ankle sprains
  • A person may have altered foot biomechanics(the position of the foot and leg in relation to the ground) If someone has a flat foot the movement of the small bones in the mid-foot may be blocked. As a result when they start to go over on their ankle there is no give anywhere else and so the entire force is applied to the ligament causing it to strain.

How come some people recover more quickly than others?

There are a number of factors affecting the speed of recovery and return to sport:

  1.      The severity of the injury
  2.      The acute care given immediately after the injury (this is of extreme importance)
  3.      How early normal weight-bearing (walking) on the foot is resumed.
  4.      How quickly they receive physiotherapy treatment.
  5.      The type of treatment they receive.
  6.      If they have an underlying cause such as flat feet.
  7.      If they have had previous untreated or poorly managed ankle sprains.

So what do you do if you sprain your ankle?

As with all injuries the initial treatment is:


After that professional advice from a chartered physiotherapist should be sought as soon as possible. Early advice and treatment will definitely speed up recovery.

Following this through to an exercise programme which helps to restore strength and re-education of the aforementioned proprioceptive treatment will go a long way to preventing the injured person from developing the all too common problem of ‘Recurrent ankle sprains’

Elevation means “elevation” – ensure ankle is higher than hip.

What if you’re already in that cycle of recurrent ankle sprains?

It’s not too late to sort things out. It depends on whether there is any joint stiffness, pain, scarring in the ligament, flat feet or just impairment of your proprioceptive system.

If it is just the latter you could start by practising standing on one leg whenever you get a chance. It would probably be best to have it assessed by a chartered physiotherapist who will be able to advise you on how best to break the cycle.