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Physical Therapy for Ankle Sprain – Information, Exercises, and More

You didn’t see the curb on the end of the sidewalk. 

One wrong step and your ankle twists.

The searing pain you are experiencing in your ankle could be a symptom of an ankle sprain.

In this guide, we’ll go over the how and why of ankle sprains, and what treatment options are right for you.

What is an Ankle Sprain?

When it comes to musculoskeletal injuries, sprained ankles are the most common injury seen by physicians for both children and adults.

A sprained ankle is an injury that can happen when your ligaments become stretched beyond their range of motion due to your ankle twisting or rolling into an awkward position.

The ligaments around your ankle joint are like safety belts. Their job is to stabilize the joint and prevent excessive movement. 

Damage to these ligaments can range from mild discomfort to severe pain if the ligaments are torn. 

Ankle Sprain Grades

The severity of an ankle sprain injury is measured by three ankle sprain grades: 

  • Grade 1: The ligaments could be stretched or have a mild tear. There is minimal pain with walking and mild tenderness and swelling.
  • Grade 2: There is an incomplete ligament tear with moderate pain. Walking is painful and there is a moderate amount of swelling, tenderness, and bruising.
  • Grade 3: There is a complete tear of the affected ligaments, and walking is not possible without intense pain. The ankle is severely swollen and bruised

What Causes an Ankle Sprain?

A sprained ankle can occur anytime the ligaments in the ankle joint become stressed. 

You can sprain your ankle simply by taking a wrong step when running or walking or doing more physically demanding activities like sports.

Let’s take a look at four common causes of sprained ankle injuries.

Repetitive Motion

Yes, you can sprain your ankle simply by walking or running. 

Any kind of repetitive injury can cause a risk for a sprained ankle. 

You can minimize your risk of spraining an ankle by doing the following:

  • Wearing proper footwear when walking long distances or exercising
  • Avoiding exercise on uneven surfaces


You tripped on the last stair step and felt a twinge of pain in your ankle. 

It is likely that your ankle is sprained. 

Any fall that results in the ankle joint twisting or rolling into an awkward position can cause a sprained ankle. 


Chances are that if you have played sports, you have probably twisted your ankle. 

One study showed a 73% recurrence rate in ankle sprains among athletes with 59% percent of athletes suffering from residual symptoms that impaired their athletic performance. 

Ankle sprains typically happen during sports when suddenly changing direction or landing on the ankle wrong after jumping. 


Ankle injuries can occur anytime the ligaments in the ankle joint become stressed from unnatural movement. 

Traumatic occurrences like the foot becoming trapped under an object or injured during a car accident can result in an ankle sprain.

Ankle Sprain Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the injury, ankle sprain symptoms can vary.

If you have an ankle sprain, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms: 

  • Tenderness with touch
  • Pain — especially when walking or bearing weight
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Ankle instability
  • Hearing or feeling a popping sensation when the injury occurred

It is important to rule out other foot and ankle injuries. Be sure to consult with your doctor about your symptoms.

Ankle Sprain Treatment

The severity of your ankle sprain may dictate which treatment is right for you. 

Mild ankle sprains may only require self-care while severe sprains can require more drastic measures like surgery.

Let’s take a look at some of the options for ankle sprain treatment. 

Home Care

For mild ankle sprains, you may be able to self-treat at home using the R.I.C.E method:

  • Rest: Do not participate in activities that cause you pain or swelling.
  • Ice: In 2-3 hour intervals, apply ice to the ankle for 15-20 minutes. Note: Consult your doctor before applying ice if you have diabetes or any type of vascular disease.
  • Compression: Wrap the ankle with an elastic bandage to help stop the swelling process. Avoid wrapping the bandage too tightly as you don’t want to constrict blood blow to your foot.
  • Elevation: Elevate your foot above your heart to help reduce swelling.


Taking anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce swelling and pain in your ankle joint. 


Based on the severity of your ankle sprain, your doctor may recommend using some of the following devices:

  • Mobility devices like crutches if walking/bearing weight is too painful
  • Sports tape or an ankle brace to help stabilize the joint
  • A cast or walking boot to stabilize the ankle if the injury is severe

Physical Therapy

Once you are able to bear weight with minimal pain, and swelling has subsided, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy. 

Physical therapy can help strengthen the ankle joint by retraining muscles to support the joint and avoid recurring sprains.


In severe cases where the ankle sprain has caused a complete tear in one of the supporting ligaments, surgery may be required. 

Surgery may fix the following situations: 

  • A damaged ligament that won’t heal properly
  • A torn ligament that requires reconstruction

Ankle Sprain Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

The answer is yes.

A study showed that people with a high level of activity such as exercising 3 or more times a week can increase the risk of residual symptoms or re-injury.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop working out or change your busy lifestyle to avoid spraining an ankle. 

Physical therapy directly targets the muscles around your ankle to increase the strength and stability in the joint to help prevent re-injury.

Best Ankle Sprain Exercises

There are a variety of exercises aimed towards strengthening the ankle joint.


Before completing any exercises to treat an ankle sprain, it is highly recommended that you meet with a Doctor of Physical Therapy to outline a customized treatment plan. 

Here are 4 different types of ankle sprain exercises that a physical therapist may recommend:

Range of Motion Exercises

This type of exercise is commonly the first step on your road to recovery. 

Range of motion exercises  can help to restore the range of motion in your ankle to a normal standard. 

Stretching Exercises

Stretching the Achilles tendon is an important part of restoring stability to the ankle joint.


By stretching the Achilles tendon, you can significantly reduce your chances of re-injury.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises typically begin when you can withstand completing the exercises without increased pain.

These exercises are aimed at strengthening the muscles around your ankle joint that help support it and keep it in place.

Balance Exercises

Once you can withstand bearing weight without pain, you may begin working on exercises that pertain to balance and control.

These types of exercises help restore balance and joint control to help prevent re-injury.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With an Ankle Sprain

As the #1 rated physical therapy clinic on Yelp! and Google, In Motion O.C has helped hundreds of people like you recover from ankle sprains.

You don’t have to stop doing activities you love to prevent ankle sprain injury.

We are here to help you restore strength to your ankle joint and help prevent re-injury so you can continue living your best life.

*This information about physical therapy for an ankle sprain was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.