Ankle (ATFL) Sprain

ankle mobility

What is the biggest predictor of an ankle sprain?

A previous ankle sprain! This is why it’s so important to take care of that first ankle sprain properly.

What really happens when you sprain your ankle?

Usually people will report they “rolled over their ankle”. In these cases, the injury often occurs to a ligament called the “Anterior Talofibular Ligament”. It is one of three ligaments on the outside of the ankle. The role of the ATFL is that it resists the movement of rolling over your ankle. This is important for providing stability to the ankle so that you can confidently and quickly cut and turn.


Marco is a client that came to see us at Defy a few weeks ago for an ankle sprain.  He let us know that he was playing rugby and rolled over the outside of his ankle during a scrum. After talking with Marco, he mentioned having previous ankle sprains but none have been this bad and that is why he came to Defy. 

Marco told us he is in his third year at the University of Guelph and really wants to get back to playing rugby and exercising.  He loves these activities because it’s how he manages his stress during the school year,  especially during exams. We assured him we would create a plan of action and get him back to what he loves doing! 

Here’s what Marco told us on the assessment to determine that it might be an ankle sprain:

  • He had swelling around the outside of his ankle
  • Foot was planted and was pushed to cause the ankle to “roll”
  • Difficulty walking and bending the ankle 

Here’s what we saw and found during the assessment:

  • Swelling around the outside of the ankle
  • Marco had difficulty with walking and was limping due to pain
  • He had lost range of motion at the ankle, specifically with pointing the foot down and inwards
  • Extra movement when we tested the stability of his ankle, leading us to suspect a ligament injury 

Here’s how we helped Marco with their ankle sprain initially:

Education: We provided Marco with education on the importance of properly rehabbing his ankle sprain. One of the biggest factors in spraining your ankle in the future is previous ankle sprains, so we wanted to ensure Marco reduced his risk for future sprains.

Reduce swelling: We educated Marco on the use of heat versus ice with injuries. We provided manual therapy and gentle range of motion exercises to decrease swelling and ultimately reduce pain.

Maintain muscle activity: During the acute stage of ankle sprains, all movements may seem painful. We provided Marco with pain free range of motion exercises and exercises to work on foot control before progressing to ankle stability and strengthening exercises.

Improve gait: We encouraged Marco to use crutches during the initial stages of the injury and taught him how to progress weight bearing throughout the rehab process.


  1. How long does it take for a sprained ankle to heal? Recovery from a sprained ankle will depend on the extent of the injury and if other structures were affected. Commonly an ATFL sprain will heal in 2-6 weeks but a strategic rehabilitation plan with strengthening and a gradual return to sport is necessary to reduce the risk of reinjury.
  2. Can you walk on a sprained ankle? Acute ankle sprains need time to heal and can benefit from reducing stress on the ligament. It will depend on the severity but it may be recommended to reduce walking on the ankle in the early stage of healing. 
  3. How do I know my ankle is sprained? Common signs of an ankle sprain are: pain, swelling, bruising, reduced range of motion, tenderness around the ankle. These are also common signs of fractures so it is always best to have a healthcare professional examine the ankle to ensure it is a sprain.


Contact us and we can arrange for a Free Consultation with one of our Physiotherapists to speak with you about your individual case.

Important Notes:

  • We are able to help individuals of all ages and at all activity levels (recreational to competitive). 
  • We offer direct billing to most major insurance companies for the convenience of our clients.
  • We have appointments as early as 7am and as late as 7:30pm to accommodate busy lifestyles.

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