How to Play on a Sprained Ankle

young woman sitting on the floor touching her bandaged foot
You can overcome an ankle sprain with proper care. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

A sprained ankle, one of the most common sports injuries, occurs when a player stretches or tears a ligament. While the ankle contains many ligaments, most sprains involve the lateral ligaments on the outside of the joint. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, up to 25,000 ankle sprains occur each day. With early protection and adequate rehabilitation, returning to play on a sprained ankle is possible for everyone, not just the pros.

Step 1

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Confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor may order X-rays or other tests to rule out serious injuries, such as broken bones. If you have no broken bones, the doctor will diagnose the sprain as a grade I, II or III. According to The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, grade I sprains involve little to no ligament tearing and generally heal quickly, while grade III sprains involve a complete tear of one or more ligaments and result in longer times for recovery.

Step 2

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Properly rehabilitate the injury. Your physician, certified athletic trainer or physical therapist will give you exercises for strength, balance and range of motion, in addition to treatments for pain and swelling. Adhere to the rehabilitation plan, completing all stages the rehabilitation your professional prescribes. The time it takes you to fully rehabilitate a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury and how hard you are willing to work in rehab.

Step 3

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Complete a functional progression. In their book "Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete," Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Gary Harrelson and Kevin Wilk recommend following a functional progression to re-create forces and demands of the activity to which you are returning. Gradually build up to the speed, intensity and type of movements and specific motions your sport requires. Start small, with straight-ahead motion, and gradually build up to turning, cutting, jumping and other more demanding activities.

Tip

Start out slowly. Ease your way back into full activity rather than going back to full-speed, high-intensity moves your first day back.

Warning

To avoid further damage or re-injury, consult your physician or rehabilitation professional before returning to sport and exercise after an ankle sprain.

Listen to your body. If you feel pain, stop and consult your rehabilitation provider.

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