The foot and ankle complex is an unstable structure by nature, designed to conform to the different surfaces on which we tread in order to absorb shock and provides leverage for movement in many directions. A primarily bony area, the ankle and foot are comprised of many ligaments and joints that are often sprained, torn, or accompanied by a fracture and/or dislocation.
Ankle injuries are common in many sports including those involving running, jumping, and cutting such as soccer, hiking, running, volleyball, basketball, football, tennis, rock climbing, rugby, and many more.
Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries in athletes. The first priority in rehab is to reduce swelling, which, if left unaddressed, leads to stiffness and pain with weight bearing. The physical therapist can use a variety of ways to help reduce swelling through modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, ice, massage, or tape. Educating the patient how to manage the swelling at home is also necessary to help further healing with time. Initially, ankle stabilization is often necessary and provided by the physician in the form of a brace, cast, or walking boot. Due to this immobilization period, the ankle and foot subsequently become stiff and less flexible. The physical therapist’s next priority is to help the patient restore his/her ankle and foot range of motion to normal levels via stretching and manual techniques to mobilize the joints. Finally, strength and balance deficits from being off of the injured foot/ankle need to be rehabilitated under the guidance of a therapist to regain proper function and restore maximal sport performance while preventing future injury.
Other injuries that require rehabilitation include fractures, dislocations, and Achilles tendon rupture, often times requiring surgical repair. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, athletes can expect to be sitting out of their sport from anywhere between 2 weeks to 12 months. Either way, the expertise of a physical therapist will help to ensure full recovery in a timely manner, with the goal of safely returning to sports.