Back in August, a group of authors, van den Bekerom, et al. published an article in the Journal of Athletic Training which reviewed the evidence for the use of RICE in acute ankle sprains1. The authors concluded that, other than some extremely limited and low quality evidence for ice, there is very little evidence for rest, compression and elevation. The most interesting to me, and purpose of this post, was the discussion of rest, which I felt the was best summarized from the article itself: “All included studies had a similar conclusion: some type of immediate posttraumatic mobilization is beneficial in the treatment of acute ankles sprains“. And curiously, although this was a team of medical doctors writing this article, it appeared that form of mobilization was preferentially (not directly stated) manual therapy.
Although I have not had a chance to do a thorough follow-up lit review myself (always a good practice in reviewing systematic reviews), based on references selected by these authors, it appears there is more published evidence (regardless of quality) towards the use of manual mobilization/manipulation2-6 than activity/exercise7-9. Of particular interest was an examination by Eisenhart, Gaeta, and Yens6, which examined the use of manipulation (fibula, talocrural, cuboid, and anything else clinically determined), soft tissue techniques (fibularis/peroneals, etc.), and lymphatic techniques combined with RICE (with or without pain meds) in comparison to RICE alone (with or without pain meds) in an emergency department. The group which received manual therapy demonstrated decreased pain, decreased edema, and improved dorsiflexion/plantar ROM (ROM was not statistically significant though) compared to group that received RICE alone. Since it typically does not get more acute than patients showing up at the emergency department, I felt this was a great study to demonstrate the value of manual therapy for acute ankle sprains. Combined with evidence that long term restrictions in posterior talar glide post ankle sprains4, there is clearly evidence for some form of early manual therapy in most inversion ankle sprains.
Despite recognizing the increased risk of compensation injury and general increased risk of injury from deconditioning, RICE, in particular rest and relative immobilization, remains the mainstay for the acute inversion ankle sprain. It is my belief (and I am sure many others) that this treatment philosophy needs to change at every level of patient care, and I believe athletic trainers and physical therapists need to lead the way. Although consideration for the individual patient should be made, as a general guideline, if we are presented with a patient with an acute inversion ankle sprain, our thought process needs to move away from the “rest/immobilization” component unless there is a clear need. Obviously “RELATIVE REST”, ie: not return to full sport participation may be a short term need, but full immobilization and crutches for the purpose of non-weight-bearing is likely unnecessary and potentially harmful. Instead, once a fracture or significant traumatic instability is ruled out, make the foot and ankle move, both actively and passively, and ideally with full weight bearing. Clearly if an excessively antalgic gait is present and cannot be resolved with manual therapy, tape, or other modalities, an assistive device may be necessary to improve the quality of gait, but ambulation with gait training to avoid compensation should occur early.
For those who prefer guidelines towards directing treatment, Whitman, et al. 10 developed a CPR for predicting whether thrust, non-thrust manipulation, and exercise in acute inversion ankle sprains could improve outcomes. They were able to determine that the presence of 3 out of 4 variables: Symptoms worse when standing, symptoms worse in the evening, navicular drop greater than or equal to 5.0 mm, and distal tibiofibular joint hypomobility were present; are predictive of dramatic improvements with a 95% success rate in treatment outcomes if manual therapy and exercise interventions are utilized.
To drive home these points I have 2 recent cases I want to share to demonstrate the clinical value of manual therapy in the management of an ankle sprain. Case 1 involves a 55 year old female who recently experienced an acute ankle sprain after waking up in a recliner and getting up rapidly, not realizing her left lower extremity had “fallen asleep”, resulting in a significant inversion of the left ankle and a “not so graceful” landing onto the floor. Initial evaluation revealed she was positive for 3 of 3 of the Ottawa ankle rules, so she was referred for X-ray. X-ray was cleared, she was provided crutches, and she presented to me 16 hours post injury with significant swelling and difficulty weight bearing. I performed distal fibular head mobilizations and talocrural mobilizations which result in immediate visible decreases with swelling without the involvement of any lymphatic techniques. Furthermore, it allowed the patient to weight bearing with 80% decrease discomfort. Additional soft tissue treatments of the peroneals and lateral aspect of her gastroc allowed her to ambulate without an antalgic gait, and without the crutches she arrived with. Although she still reported some mild discomfort, she was able to be off her crutches from that point on. I was able to see her for 2 sessions before she was sent on her own with 90% improvement within a week after her initial sprain. I would have liked to continue to work on the foot ankle, but she was private pay and she was satisfied with the improvements she already had, I discharged her to HEP with self mobs and progressive strengthening and instructions to keep moving. Clearly I can’t say if these outcomes would have been any different had she been partial-weight bearing for a week or more, but I can say that I was able to produce immediate functional improvements which improved the quality of her life sooner rather than later.
Case 2 is a story of me, jumping for a Chinese flying lantern stuck in a tree, not realizing on return to the earth my ankles would need to accommodate to a muddy ditch with a 75 degree decline in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately, they did not accomplish this goal and I crumpled like a sack of potatoes with the right ankle significantly inverted under my collapsing body. Of course I had just read this article from van den Bekerom, so I got right up and tried to avoid limping for the rest of the evening. Keep moving and it will just resolve itself right? Well nearly 2 months later of working through it, doing occasional self mobs or having someone do a talocrural manips, I still had episodes after training or moving where there were a few minutes that I could not weight bear pain free without significant pain on the lateral plantar surface and partially through the mid-foot In the back of my mind I kind of thought this may be something cuboid related because this was a typical presentation for it, and I somewhat proved it to myself that I got the most relief when I attempted a self mobs of the cuboid using a small kobble tool, but it never lasted. It was not until I had learned that one of my fellow PT students, Nan Hannum had recently been trained in the Dr. Allyn Peelen (a local podiatrist) method of cuboid mobilization that I finally had it formally treated. Although I always have a hard time believing in a “systematic” or sequential approach to mobilization, I have seen and experienced great results with Dr. Peelen’s method of treating cuboid and all sorts of vague ankle/foot issues that did not resolve with other manual interventions. So I thought, why not have her try it on me, especially since it had been consistently problematic and interfering with my activity levels. With one treatment, followed by a foam bolster taped under the cuboid to “hold the treatment”, I was 80% percent improved. We repeated that treatment 2 days later, second bout of tape, this time 90% improvement. I took the tape off 3 days later, and was able to run 2 days later for the first time in 2 months (Thanks Nan!). Furthermore, that specific pain has not been back since (although I did tweak my talocrural recently of course). Needless to say, the purpose of this case study was that I personally believe that if I had the talocrural and the cuboid (along with anything else clinically relevant) mobilization the first week, I would probably never have to wait 2 months to get full relief and I probably would not have developed subtle hip pain secondary the subtle antalgic gait. Yes, from an evidence based perspective that is a stretch, but when you see the acute benefits (regardless of the mechanism) of manual therapy with numerous patients, it is hard not to make the judgment that earlier treatment may have prevent later complication.
So with my rambling out of the way. I leave you with a slew of videos of my favorite ankle mobs. First off, you can’t go wrong with Dr. E’s collection of eclectic strategies to improve ankle mobility:
Second, don’t forget the cuboid whip, personally I have had good experience with this with patients, but as demonstrated with the Peelen cuboid sequence, we probably don’t need to be this aggressive because this can be painful!
Finally, I was able to track down two videos of Dr. Allyn Peel himself both performing and using a plastic model to explain his approach to cuboid/foot ankle mobilization.
Oh, and one last thing, don’t forget about the other 6-8 hours of an acute ankle sprain..
1.) van den Bekerom, Michel PJ, et al. What Is the Evidence for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation Therapy in the Treatment of Ankle Sprains in Adults?. J Athl Train 2012;47(4):435-443.
(2.) Bleakley CM, McDonough SM, MacAuley DC. Some conservative strategies are effective when added to controlled mobilisation with external support after acute ankle sprain: a systematic review. Aust J Physiother. 2008;54(1):7-20.
(3.) Green T, Refshauge K, Crosbie J, Adams R. A randomized controlled trial of a passive accessory joint mobilization on acute ankle inversion sprains. Phys Ther. 2001;81(4):984-994.
(4.) Denegar CR, Hertel J, Fonseca J. The effect of lateral ankle sprain on dorsiflexion range of motion, posterior talar glide, and joint laxity. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2002;32(4):166-173.
(5.) van der Wees PJ, Lenssen AF, Hendriks EJM, Stomp DJ, Dekker J, de Bie RA. Effectiveness of exercise therapy and manual mobilisation in acute ankle sprain and functional instability: a systematic review. Aust J Physiother. 2006;52(1):27-37.
(6.) Eisenhart AW, Gaeta TJ, Yens DP. Osteopathic manipulative treatment in the emergency department for patients with acute ankle injuries. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2003;103(9):417-421.
(7.) Karlsson J, Eriksson BI, Sward L. Early functional treatment for acute ligament injuries of the ankle joint. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1996;6(6):341-345.
(8.) Brooks SC, Potter BT, Rainey JB. Treatment for partial tears of the lateral ligament of the ankle: a prospective trial. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1981;21;282(6264):606-607.
(9.) Bleakley CM, O’Connor SR, Tully MA, et al. Effect of accelerated rehabilitation on function after ankle sprain: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2010;340:c1964. doi: 10.1136/bmj.cl964.
10.)Whitman, Julie M., et al. Predicting short-term response to thrust and nonthrust manipulation and exercise in patients post inversion ankle sprain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2009,39(3): 188-200.