ATFL Sprain/Tear (Lateral Ankle Sprain)

It’s Dr Matthew Toone and Dr Jordan Brady here with Aspen Ridge Physical Therapy, and we are going to talk today about a common injury of the ankle we see and treat all the time – an ankle sprain. So, to start off, I am going to begin with a funny (and slightly exaggerated) analogy. The analogy is called: “An Ankle Sprain Can Kill You.” Let me explain … the analogy is you go out and roll your ankle playing basketball and it hurts and swells up but you ‘walk it off’ and keep playing, and then go home and ice it. Then, you stay off it for 2 weeks and after about 2 weeks it feels better, so you go play basketball again, and what do you do – roll your ankle again. This same process happens over and over every 2 weeks until finally you say: “fine, I’m never playing basketball ever again because every time I do I roll my ankle.”

What then happens is you not only stop playing basketball, but stop being active in general and become a couch potato and never exercise again. Eventually you develop diabetes and obesity and end up dying!!!

Alright, I admit that the ending to that analogy turned quickly and became slightly over-exaggerated!! But, it does illustrate the important principle that injured tissue (like a lateral ankle sprain) does not heal fully in 2 weeks, and if we continue to put strain on that tissue it will never heal properly and always be weak and painful, and could result in inactivity which can lead to other problems.

Thankfully, with a lateral ankle sprain, or tear, as Doctors of Physical Therapy, we can help treat this and get you back to full function. So, what is an ATFL? This stands for anterior-talo-fibular ligament. It is the ligament that prevents your ankle ‘rolling’ and is often the one that gets injured first when you roll or sprain your ankle. You can ‘roll’ your ankle many ways, some include: sports, running, jumping and landing awkwardly, walking/running on uneven ground and twisting your ankle, etc.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of an ATFL Tear/Spain:

  • Pain and tenderness on outside of ankle
  • Swelling, bruising
  • Limited range of motion, and pain, especially when you point your toes down and in
  • Lots of instability and weakness
  • Pain or inability to put weight on foot/ankle
  • Possibly even hearing/feeling a ‘popping’ during ankle movements

The treatment for this condition is dependent upon the grade of the sprain/tear. A grade 1 sprain is a very minimal sprain that typically will heal fully in 4-5 weeks. A grade 2 sprain however is more serious and often requires physical therapy, and may take months to get full function back. With a grade 2 sprain, your physical therapist will help create a customized plan of care to help reduce pain and swelling, stimulate blood flow to help the tissue heal, and create a customized exercise program to work on stability of the ankle. If you have a grade 3 sprain (essentially a complete tear) then the ligament will have ruptured to the point that it will require surgery.

If you have sprained or rolled your ankle and it’s been several weeks and the pain is not subsiding, our Doctors of Physical Therapy at Aspen Ridge can help evaluate you and determine what the next best steps are. If physical therapy is needed, we can help to reduce your pain and strengthen your ankle to get you back to full function. We’ve treated many other patients – of all ages – with a lateral ankle sprain, and are confident we can help you. We are located in Layton right off of I-15 in the Tanner Clinic across from Davis Hospital. We see patients from Ogden down to Bountiful, and would love to help you after your surgery. Call us today with any questions or to set up an appointment. You can reach us at 801-773-1350.