Sprained ankles are among the most common injuries in sports. A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that one out of every five athletic injuries is an ankle sprain. If the injury is treated properly, recovery can be very short. But for an athlete who suffers a more severe high-ankle sprain, rest and recovery can take months.
A high-ankle sprain occurs when the lower leg and foot twist outward, stretching or tearing the syndesmosis ligament, which connects the tibia and fibula to the talus bone to form the ankle joint. High-ankle sprains are usually caused when an athlete performs a cutting motion to the outside, as often seen in football, soccer and hockey.
Dr. David Davidson, podiatric medical consultant to the Buffalo Bills, says that whereas common ankle sprains require very little rest and rehabilitation, high-ankle sprains take six to eight weeks or more to fully heal. Why do they take longer? Dr. Davidson says the exact reason is unclear, but one factor could be misdiagnosis. “Early diagnosis followed by physical therapy often improves rehabilitation time, but often the diagnosis is not made and therefore recovery is delayed.” He goes on to explain the different levels of high ankle sprains—from a stretch or partial tear of the ligament to a complete tear. If the severity of the injury isn’t fully known, that also can hinder recovery.
Low-grade high-ankle sprains are initially treated with PRICE (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). Davidson says, “Once the swelling is down and weight bearing is less painful, stretching and physical therapy for strengthening is important.” For a severe high-ankle sprain, in which two of the three ligaments are torn, surgery is required.
Due to the threat of prolonged downtime that high-ankle sprains pose to an athlete, Dr. Davidson suggests taking preventative measures to protect yourself. He advises, “Doing strengthening exercises for the ligaments above the ankle and the ligaments of the ankle is really important. Wearing sport-specific shoes is really important, and taping helps incredibly. Those are the three best ways to prevent high-ankle sprains.”
STACK’s article and video libraries are full of ankle-strengthening exercises from coaches, trainers and athletes. Check out these and more by searching ankle.
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