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Rehabilitation of the Ankle After Acute Sprain or Chronic Instability

Objective: To outline rehabilitation concepts that are applicable to acute and chronic injury of the ankle, to provide evidence for current techniques used in the rehabilitation of the ankle, and to describe a functional rehabilitation program that progresses from basic to advanced, while taking into consideration empirical data from the literature and clinical practice.

Background: Important considerations in the rehabilitation of ankle injuries include controlling the acute inflammatory process, regaining full ankle range of motion, increasing muscle strength and power, and improving proprioceptive abilities. These goals can be achieved through various modalities, flexibility exercises, and progressive strength- and balance-training exercises. In this article, we discuss the deleterious effects of ankle injury on ankle-joint proprioception and muscular strength and how these variables can be quantifiably measured to follow progress through a rehabilitation program. Evidence to support the effectiveness of applying orthotics and ankle braces during the acute and subacute phases of ankle rehabilitation is provided, along with recommendations for functional rehabilitation of ankle injuries, including a structured progression of exercises.

Recommendations: Early functional rehabilitation of the ankle should include range-of-motion exercises and isometric and isotonic strength-training exercises. In the intermediate stage of rehabilitation, a progression of proprioception-training exercises should be incorporated. Advanced rehabilitation should focus on sport-specific activities to prepare the athlete for return to competition. Although it is important to individualize each rehabilitation program, this well-structured template for ankle rehabilitation can be adapted as needed.