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Common Dance Injuries and How to Treat Them: Sprained Ankles

foot of dancer in ballet shoes

When you are physically active there is always a potential for injury, no matter how careful you are to avoid them. Sprained ankles are a very common dance injury. This blog will explain some of the basic physical therapy activities you can do to treat sprained ankles.

Sprained Ankles

Sprained ankles occur most frequently when you roll over the outer aspect of the ankle. This is called an inversion sprain. Inversion sprains are graded 1, 2 or 3. The grade indicates how torn the ligaments that hold the bone together are following the injury. Grade 1 indicates no tearing; grade 2 has partial tearing and usually includes more swelling and bruising than grade 1. Grade 3 indicates a complete tear of the ligament with more pronounced swelling and bruising. Grades 1 and 2 can be very painful, but grade 3 is often less painful because the whole ligament is torn.

Treatment for Sprained Ankles

The first goal is to reduce swelling:

  • Elevate the ankle above the level of the heart and ice it. This helps swelling move out of the foot.
  • Ice multiple times per day with a piece of cloth between the ankle and skin. Allow your skin to come back up to normal body temperature between icing sessions to ensure you don’t cause frost bite.
  • If the ankle is still swollen continue to ice, even if the pain has reduced.

Work to regain range of motion:

  • Begin moving the foot and ankle in a pain free range of motion. Keeping the motion pain free helps to ensure you are not injuring the ligament. The range of motion you can achieve may be very small when you start but will continue to grow as the healing process advances.
  • Take it easy in dance class. Do not do anything that is painful. In a ballet class, you may only make it through barre warm up and not be able to do any center work.
  • Do not dance through pain. Pain is your body’s warning system that something is not right. If it hurts to do a particular move, try to modify the movement or mark the movement. If that doesn’t help eliminate the pain, your body is not ready for that particular dance move.

Retrain your balance:

  • Most people do not realize you lose your ability to balance after an ankle sprain. If balance is not restored, you are much more likely to sprain your ankle again.
  • Begin trying to balance on a flat floor with your eyes open for 60 seconds. When you achieve that, try the same balance with your eyes closed for 60 seconds. When that is achieved, try balancing while standing on a pillow with eyes open for 60 seconds. Then try balancing in your dance shoes.

When Is It Time to See a Physical Therapist?

If your pain has not improved in one week, you should see a physical therapist. You may have injured more than 1 ligament. If you live in the Portland, Oregon area, contact Life’s Work Physical Therapy at 503-295-2585 or visit www.lifesworkpt.com to schedule an initial evaluation with our expert physical therapist who has more than 20 years of experience in dance and performance art. If you live outside the Portland area, please refer to our previous blog on How to Find a Good PT and visit apta.org to locate a great physical therapist in your area.

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