Sports Injuries - Ankle Sprain


Sport is a part of the Australian lifestyle and, while an active lifestyle is definitely positive for our wellbeing, practising sports can also lead to sports injuries. In this article we talk about a common one: ankle sprains.

HPS Sport Medicine Assets RBG v1 3 Achilles Tendon

About 13 million adults and 3 million children take part in sport each year in Australia (Department of Health and Aged Care.)

While this has many benefits, it also puts us at risk of sports injuries. In 2019–20 alone, about 52,300 sports injuries led to a hospital stay in Australia (AIHW).

Among the different sports injuries the most common ones are the injuries of the soft tissue — sprains, strains, tears and bruises

Ankle sprains

Ankle sprains are a prevalent type of sports injury, characterised by the tearing of ligaments that join bones together and support the joint's stability.

Sports that involve jumping, twisting, and turning movements like basketball, volleyball, netball, and football, as well as those that require sudden changes of direction like soccer, tennis, and hockey, have a higher risk of causing ankle sprains.

After experiencing an ankle sprain, the joint may become unstable, leading to a prolonged recovery period.


An excessive range of motion at the ankle joint caused by external force can result in an acute ankle sprain. Players typically become immediately aware of the injury and may hear an audible "snap" or "pop" sound.

Proven risk factors

Suspected risk factors


Signs and Symptoms

Sprains are graded on a scale of 1 to 3 (mild, moderate, and severe), depending on the degree of tearing to the ligaments. In most cases, x-rays are performed to rule out a fracture or dislocation.



1 (mild)

  • Minor tear
  • Minimal pain
  • Little or no joint instability
  • Mild pain with weight bearing activities
  • Slight loss of balance

2 (moderate)

  • Some tearing of the ligament fibres
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Moderate instability of the joint
  • Swelling and stiffness
  • Pain with weight bearing activities
  • Poor balance

3 (severe)

  • Complete tear of the ligament
  • Severe pain followed by minimal pain
  • Gross instability of the joint
  • Severe swelling
  • Possible pain with weight bearing
  • Poor balance


To manage an acute ankle sprain:

Implement the RICER protocol for 48–72 hours:

To reduce bleeding and swelling in the injured area, it is also important to adhere to the No HARM protocol, which involves avoiding heat, alcohol, running or activity, and massage.

Rehabilitation and return to play:

Most ankle sprains heal within 2 to 6 weeks, however severe sprains many take as long as 12 weeks.

A comprehensive rehabilitation program minimises the chance of the injury recurring and includes flexibility, balance, stretching, strengthening and sport specific exercises.

During this time, taping or bracing the ankle may be prescribed to provide support until full function is regained. If, while performing a rehabilitation exercise, ankle joint pain or discomfort is experienced, stop immediately and re-consult a sports medicine professional.

Players with significant ligament injuries (Grade 2 or 3) are advised to use bracing or protective taping when playing sport for a minimum of 6 to 12 months post injury.


2023 About Sport in Australia. Australian Government. Department of Health and Aged Care

2019-20 Sports Injuries Hospitalisations in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Sports Medicine Australia

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