Ankle Sprains: The Hidden Dangers of Incomplete Healing

March 3, 2016 in Our News & Bulletins by Integrity Rehab

Ankle sprains are tricky injuries for two reasons. First, the ankle is a complicated joint managing high loads. But perhaps more importantly, ankle sprains can give the impression of full healing after a period of relative rest and protection – lulling young and old alike into a false sense of readiness. The fact of the matter is that up to 64% of conventionally treated ankle sprains create persisting symptoms after three years and recurrence rates have been reported as high as 53%. In studies trying to find the predictors of future ankle sprains, the two strongest variables emerged as (1) a previous ankle sprain, and (2) failure to rehabilitate a previous ankle sprain. What’s more, previous ankle sprains prove an important risk factor for predicting more serious injuries such as ACL ruptures. Return to pain-free activity is not the measure of a healed ankle sprain ready for full duty.

Inappropriately healed ankle sprains can have ongoing structural problems such as disorganized tendon collagen or reduced range of motion. But the more important deficit may be even harder for a person to detect. Neuromuscular deficits likely play a larger role in long-term instability of previously injured ankles. One study found that people had 33% slower reaction times in the lower leg after an ankle sprain compared to the opposite leg that did not have a sprain.

So what should people with ankle sprains do? When an ankle is sprained, immobilization is a common treatment error. Early mobilization has proven more likely to prevent future ankle sprains. Functional stress stimulates the incorporation of stronger replacement collagen. Of course, consultation and guidance from a suitably trained professional can be helpful for assessing what is the right amount of movement for each individual injury.

Get professional rehabilitation as soon as possible. The body starts healing ankle sprains almost immediately. Movement determines the patterns in which healing tissues are deposited. The sooner appropriate motion is introduced into the healing process, the more organized and functional the tissue repairs will be. Research shows that properly designed physical therapy programs return people to full duty faster and they reduce the likelihood of reinjury by as much as 75%.

Ankle Sprain Dangers