Lateral ligament sprains of the ankle are one of the most common sports injuries, and because they are so common they are often managed too casually and many go untreated. From a clinical point of view the problem with a lateral ligament sprain of the ankle is that they have a very high incidence of recurrence. Gribble et al, 2016, Attenborough et al, 2015 and Tanen et al, 2014 (references can be supplied upon request), found 30-50% of the athletic population and 20% of the general population will go on to suffer from chronic ankle symptoms. These symptoms are often referred to as chronic ankle instability and include pain, swelling, laxity and instability.
The contributing factors to the development of chronic ankle instability include:
not seeking medical attention for the primary lateral ankle sprain; and returning to sport when pain has decreased but function has not been fully restored. The absence of pain does not mean that you are ready to return to sport. Decreases in strength, range of movement, proprioception and balance need to be restored.
Doherty et al, 2016 found that exercise therapy when performed in high doses (5 x 30 mins per week for six weeks) reduced the chances of recurrent lateral ligament sprains in the ankle by 42% and bracing/taping reduced the risk by 62%. It is currently recommended that you brace or tape your ankle for every game and training session for at least six weeks.
The decision to return to sport after a lateral ligament sprain should be based on strength, balance and hop tests rather than time or absence of pain.
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