Self Care as Good as Physical Therapy for Sprained Ankles

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People experiencing a bad sprain to their ankle should be assessed by a healthcare professional – like a doctor or physical therapist – but a new study reveals actual care for the sprain is as effectively done at home as through physical therapy.

This is according to a randomized patient study co-authored by Brenda Brouwer, a faculty member in the school of rehabilitation at Queen’s University.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned 503 patients, between 16 to 79 years old, to one of two groups.

The first group attended up to seven 30 minute clinic sessions of supervised physical therapy featuring isometric resistance exercises, strength training, stretching and other therapies to decrease pain and swelling and to move the patient toward increased ankle weight bearing.

The other group was provided with a one-page sheet of instructions for home care, that included information about keeping the ankle elevated, wearing a brace, pain medication, applying compression and ice, and eventually incorporating more movement and to putting weight on the ankle.

The study also involved a questionnaire to assess quality of life, pain, symptoms and daily activities function.

Researchers found no significant differences between the groups at the one, three and six month period after receiving the ankle injury.

37% of the home care group achieved “excellent recovery” by the three-month point, whereas 43% of those receiving physiotherapy care were categorized the same. A difference that is not clinically significant and could be due to random factors.

However, as Dr. Brouwer told the New York Times, the results do not mean that physical therapy is useless for sprained ankles.

“It’s still a choice,” she said to the Times. “If you want to manage it yourself, that’s fine. But I would urge people to at least seek advice from a physical therapist to learn what limitations they might need to impose on themselves.”

The entire report can be seen at the BMJ (Formerly the British Medical Journal): Supervised physiotherapy for mild or moderate ankle sprain


Photo: Slip on Flickr (cc)