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Sprain: the most common injury in sports

If you have ever played sports, gone running/walking or ever taken a tumble, there is a good chance you have dealt with the “Sprained Ankle”. Our team of physiotherapists see this injury in clinic every single day. Today we look at the injury in depth, through our Chartered Physiotherapist Sinead Boylan who works in our Temple Bar Clinic.

How Do Ankle Sprains Happen

The sprained ankle is the most common type of athletic injury with research suggesting that ankle sprains account for 15-30% of all sports injuries.  Although it is a widespread sporting injury, it regularly occurs during every day activities. Ankle sprains are often also associated with women in high-heeled shoes!
Ligaments help stabilize joints, preventing excessive movement. Ankle sprains occur when the foot twists, rolls or turns beyond its normal motions.  It can happen when the foot is planted awkwardly, when the ground is uneven, or when an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint. The ligaments surrounding the ankle can become severely over-stretched and damaged. A damaged ligament causes inflammation, swelling, and bruising around the affected joint. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.


Symptoms of the sprained ankle may include :

  1. Inability to weight bear on the affected ankle
  2. Ankle pain, which can be mild to severe
  3. Decreased range of motion at the ankle joint
  4. Swelling and inflammation
  5. Bruising
  6. A popping sound during the injury
  7. Instability of the ankle (in severe sprains)


A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose a sprained ankle. It is important to rule out the possibility of a fracture and then the severity of the sprain may be graded:

Grade 1 sprain:  Slight stretching and some damage to the fibers of the ligament.

Grade 2 sprain: Partial tearing of the ligament. If the ankle joint is examined and moved in certain ways, abnormal looseness (laxity) of the ankle joint occurs.

Grade 3 sprain: Complete tear of the ligament. Gross instability occurs.

The biggest difference between the two tests is the speaking section. In TOEFL you speak to a computer, which students may find very unnatural, but during the IELTS exam you speak to a real person, which makes it feel more like a real conversation.

  • Advice regarding RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Joint mobilisation
  • Electrical therapy
  • Range of motion (ROM) exercises
  • Strength training
  • Gait training
  • Balance/Proprioceptive training
  • Taping
  • Activity modification advice
  • Return to activity program

Without proper treatment for an ankle sprain there can be long-term negative effects such as chronic instability, decreased range of motion and pain.  Studies show that up to 80% of people who sprain an ankle will re-sprain it and this is normally due to inadequate rehabilitation.

Appropriate physiotherapy intervention and rehabilitation is essential to help reduce pain, increase range of motion as well as minimise the risk of future recurrent sprains.


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