When should you strap a sprained ankle?

exercising male with sprained ankle

Sprained ankles are a very common injury, especially if you play sport, but also one of the most overlooked musculoskeletal injuries as far as receiving correct targeted treatment. The number of people who develop chronic ankle instability is very high and could be avoided in many cases with the right action taken at the onset of the injury.

There are many questions about a sprained ankle and many factors to consider because each sprain is unique.

The first questions a physiotherapist may ask before they make a recommendation on the strain may be:

  • What is your sport or activity?
  • How often do you play or participate in your chosen sport?
  • At what level do you play your sport?
  • Have you had previous ankle sprains?
  • Have you had an allergic reaction to taping before?
  • What is the severity of their injury?
  • Is this a short or long-term recovery strategy?
  • Where are they with their rehabilitation journey?

What is a sprained ankle?

A sprained ankle is an injury to the ligaments that support the bones of the ankle joint. Initially bandaging an ankle may be used to provide compression to the injury to help control swelling and give some support.

4 steps to wrapping an ankle with a bandage to help control swelling

  1. Ensure the bandage you’re using will be long enough to wrap around your ankle and foot several times. Don’t worry if it’s too long, as a dressing can easily be cut where needed. The bandage should be elastisised to allow for swelling
  2. Start by wrapping the bandage around the ball of your foot below the toes.
  3. Once you have a base around the foot, take the bandage around your foot and ankle, making a figure-eight pattern.
  4. Keep the bandage taut, so it won’t unravel but not too tight that it risks cutting off circulation. The wrap should feel firm enough that the ankle will have limited movement and has support but not uncomfortable. If you feel a tingling sensation or feel numbing, it’s a sign the wrap is too tight and you should start the wrapping process again.

Why should I strap an ankle?

Strapping  for an ankle will be used shortly after major swelling subsides

  • Strapping or bracing a sprained ankle will help in many ways to recover from the injury.
  • It will stabilise the injury to allow the ligaments to heal.
  • It will speed up the time of recovery.
  • It will prevent further complications and injury from occurring.
  • It may eliminate the need for additional treatment.

How severe does a sprain have to be to be strapped?

It will depend on the range of severity. It could be a very low-grade lateral ankle sprain with minimal consequences for the lateral ligaments to an extensive injury. It could involve multiple ligaments, bone bruising, cartilage defects, and even fractures if it’s an extensive injury.

Low-grade sprains usually are not such a significant threat; however, if they are not strapped, pain and swelling could persist, which could turn a low-grade injury into a moderate injury very quickly. Once an injury is neglected or mismanaged, it’s common for reoccurring injuries to happen.

Taping Vs Bracing

Often people ask if bracing is better than taping for preventative measures of a sprain. Here are some pros and cons of each to consider.

Buying a brace is a one-off purchase, so it’s less expensive in the long term than taping regularly. It’s also more convenient as it doesn’t require time to put on. Bracing can be suitable for adults and children who don’t have access to trainers and managers who can tape.

Bracing Cons

The downside to bracing is that often they can be bulky and uncomfortable in shoes. Sometimes they can’t be moulded or customised to the foot as taping can, which means they can be more problematic than helpful to an athlete’s performance.

Taping Pros

Taping is less expensive in the short term if you’re only going to tape a few times. Taping is easier to customise to an athlete’s foot, and you can tape in specific ways and around areas of the ankle and underfoot for more comfort than a brace can.

Taping Cons

Taping can be more expensive than bracing in the long term because of continuously buying supplies. Also, the tape cannot be adjusted after it has been applied, and even if used well, it can loosen from exercise or sweat.

With proper care, a sprained ankle ligament will usually heal relatively quickly. Knowing how to strap a sprained ankle firmly but safely will help with healing.

Just remember not to keep the joint immobilised too long or wrapped too tightly or too loosely. And lookout for signs that the injury may be more serious than you originally thought, such as pain that lingers or gets worse.

If you have a reoccurring ankle injury or even if this is your first sprained ankle, it’s best to see physiotherapist to get the right advice and treatment.

Proactive Physiotherapy can help you with any ankle injury and provide a suitable treatment and care plan to strengthen the muscles needed.

Contact us to organise your confidential appointment with one of our physiotherapists to get you back on track.