The ankle sprain – when can I return to play?

The ankle sprain – an injury all too familiar to us athletes and non-athletes alike. Often, we take it through the age-old “rest & ice method”, start wriggling our ankle after a few days of limping around and return to play within a week or two. Why then, do we find it more difficult to maintain our balance on the court or field even months after the initial injury?

Ankle inversion injuries (foot twisting inwards) are the most common ankle sprains which can occur during twisting or turning movements, or landing from a height. The sudden twisting of the foot places shearing forces on the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle, resulting in an overstretch, or in more severe cases, tearing of the ligaments.

Pain and swelling often arise from the trauma of an ankle sprain. Subsequent pain-avoidance behaviors, which include limping and limiting movement in the acute phase, can also alter the way we move. Additionally, mechanoreceptors embedded within the ankle joint and ligaments also lose their ability to provide proprioception – the way the body tells where it is in space (this partly explains why you feel wobbly when attempting to balance on the injured leg!). These changes often result in compensatory movements, which may over time lead to tissue adaptation further up the kinetic chains of our body. Left unaddressed, these deficits in neuromuscular control contribute to a higher risk for recurrent injury, leading to chronic ankle instability.

Our physiotherapists will be able to guide you through your recovery and advise on your readiness to return to sport, with a goal of reducing risk for recurrence. This includes an in-depth assessment of your posture, movement, neuromuscular control and other risk factors. Your physio will then guide you through the rehab process which may include swelling management, taping, postural & neuromuscular training, strengthening & proprioceptive exercises to aid your return to sport. Our goal is to have you back in play with a reduced risk for recurrent injuries so that you minimise your injury downtime!


Gribble et al., (2016). Evidence review for the 2016 International Ankle Consortium consensus statement on the prevalence, impact and long-term consequences of lateral ankle sprains. Br J Sports Med, 50 (24), 1496-1505.