Managing ankle sprains and return to sport


Ankle sprains are one of the most common acute injuries occurring in sports, accounting for around 76% of total injuries and 85% of those being ankle sprains. Unfortunately, many do not fully recover and 25% report chronic instability and long term disability.


Sound like you? Read on to see what you can do to reduce your risk of injury and improve your recovery!


Generally an acute ankle sprain has a good natural prognosis with most improvement within 2 weeks and majority of symptoms improved within 8-12 weeks. After this time, the ligaments of the ankle continue to repair for up to a year following trauma and continuing to assist this recovery is important to reduce the risk of re-injury. Those who have had an ankle injury are three times more likely to re-injure their ankle and therefore injury risk reduction should be of great importance.


Acute treatment follows the POLICE acronym, standing for Protect, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This means early weight bearing with or without a walking aid depending on the severity of the injury. Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs have also shown to improve the rate of recovery. Ice, compression and elevation can also be used in the early stages to help control excessive swelling and pain. 


After the acute stage, strength training, balance and proprioception training have shown effectiveness in both rehabilitation and reduction in injury risk. Balance training alone has recently been shown to reduce ankle injuries in soccer players by 36%. 

On return to sport, both bracing and taping have shown similar effects to decrease the risk of reinjury by around 15% with non-significant differences between the two. 


Improving performance to pre-injury levels or greater is the gold standard on returning to sport. Return to sport goals should focus on sports specific and functional criteria such as:

  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Power
  • Proprioception 
  • Hopping and jumping
  • Sports specific activities

Return to sport testing should also include psychological measures to ensure mental readiness to perform, such as:

  • Ankle Confidence
  • Perceptions of stability
  • Return to sport readiness


If you need assistance with rehabilitation following an ankle injury or suffer from chronic ankle instability, see one of our Exercise Physiologists to get you back to sport!



Al Attar WSA;Khaledi EH;Bakhsh JM;Faude O;Ghulam H;Sanders RH; (no date) Injury prevention programs that include balance training exercises reduce ankle injury rates among soccer players: A systematic review, Journal of physiotherapy. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: (Accessed: January 3, 2023).

Kyaw, S.L., Moore, I.S. and Oo, M.L. (2020) A systematic review on the effectiveness of different functional treatments for acute ankle sprains, Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies. Hilaris SRL. Available at: (Accessed: January 3, 2023).

Wagemans, J. et al. (no date) Exercise-based rehabilitation reduces reinjury following acute lateral ankle sprain: A systematic review update with meta-analysis, PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science. Available at: (Accessed: January 3, 2023). 


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