Returning to Sports After an Ankle Sprain

By Fara Rosenzweig

Nearly 25,000 ankle sprains happen in the United States every day, according to The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM). As an athletic person it’s important to know the process of healing your ankle so if your ankle is sprained you can get back to your regular workout routine as soon as possible.

While it may be hard to stray from running and other lower body exercises—you can continue upper body exercises that don’t strain your ankles—use the following tips to get better as quickly and safely as possible.

Step 1: PRICE

If you experience this common sports injury, focus first on PRICE (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), the new RICE. When icing, avoid direct contact with the skin by wrapping the ice in a towel and stop after 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat each hour.

Step 2: Restore Flexibility and Range of Motion

You can only get back to your regular routine when you’ve restored full range of motion in your ankle—this will ensure you avoid any further injuries. Try the following routine, recommended by the AOSSM, to safely return your ankle back to normal.

  • One week after the sprain, begin gently moving your ankle up and down. At this point you should also focus on isometric movements, simply pushing against a fixed object with your ankle. Remember to push slowly and gently.
  • You can also start to restore motion by turning your heel in and out, keeping the ball of your foot in one place.

When you’re able to move your ankle at about 60 to 70 percent of normal range it’s time to begin strengthening. Try this simple movement with an exercise band:

“Fix one end of the tube to an immovable object like a table leg, and loop the other end around the forefoot. Sit with your knees bent and heels on the floor. Pull your foot inward against the tubing, moving your knee as little as possible. Return slowly to the starting position.”

Step 3: Restore Balance

At this point you can also begin simple balance exercises. For example, stand on the injured leg, and lift the other. Hold for 10 seconds with your hands out to the sides, rest and hold again. Make it harder by bring your arms down or moving the leg in the air forward and backward.

Keep your progress slow and steady to be sure you don’t risk any further injuries. After a few short weeks you’ll be back in the gym, running, squatting and more. Wear an ankle brace for additional support as you begin your normal activities and sports.

Note, if you can’t bear weight on the sprained ankle after following a RICE regimen, see a doctor. This may mean you have a more serious tear or injury.