Ever suffer an injury and then wonder when it will feel better? Take a common injury, such as a sprained ankle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone with a sprained ankle say to me, “It took forever to heal, and it’s never been the same since.” There’s a reason for that!

A sprained joint, whether it’s an ankle or not, means one (or more) of the ligaments has been stretched or torn, depending on the severity of the sprain. Ligaments don’t have the same blood supply as tendons, muscles, and bones. While no one wants a fracture, a broken bone will heal better than a sprained ligament because it has better blood flow. A “healed” ligament tends to be incomplete and unstable, compared to how it was before an injury. This is why someone who has a history of a sprained ankle tends to sprain it more than once.

Plus, the body takes longer than you think to heal! We break down healing into three phases.

  • Inflammatory phase. This is what happens immediately after an injury and when you have swelling, warmth, and pain. Typically, this phase lasts from three to seven days. This is when it’s best to rest and use ice on an injured body part.

  • Proliferative phase. Once swelling decreases, the body can start to work on forming scar tissue. This proliferative phase also has its elements of pain and soreness, but it should be less than the initial phase. It will feel better, but it won’t feel healed. This phase may last from three to six weeks; perhaps longer, depending on severity.

  • Remodeling phase. This final phase begins around three weeks after the initial injury but may last up to 12 months. This is when the body works to improve the strength of scar tissue. This is why I hear people say, “I hurt it months ago, but it’s still not right!” That’s because it’s still healing.

Physical therapy is most helpful in the proliferative and remodeling phases. Once that initial swelling and bleeding subsides, we can help improve flexibility of scar tissue. Also, by improving the strength of muscles surrounding joints, we can decrease the risk of re-injury. Stronger muscles can more easily support injured joints since ligaments don’t heal very well.

So, if you’ve sprained an ankle (or any other joint!) come see us at Peak Form and we can get you through those healing phases!

By Laura Vroman, PT, DPT