My physical therapist has talked about using passive joint mobilization to treat my sprained ankle. What is passive joint mobilization, and how does it work?

Passive joint mobilization is a technique commonly used by physical therapists to reduce pain and improve movement in an injured joint. Passive means the movements are done by an outside force, usually by the therapist. Joint mobilizationrefers to a gentle movement of the surfaces of the injured joint. To help with your sprained ankle, the therapist will probably hold your ankle steady with one hand and lightly glide the joint surfaces of the ankle with the other.

The goal is to get the joint to move normally–and with less pain. The gentle movements help lubricate the surfaces of the joint. Muscles around the ankle relax, and pain is eased. This helps regain normal movement in your ankle joint.

I sprained my ankle, and my buddy said something about “rice.” Is this a special diet or what?

RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It’s a recipe to reduce pain and swelling and get you back on your feet.

RICE has four important ingredients. First, take rest seriously. Avoid activities that cause any ankle pain. Second, put a bag of crushed ice on your ankle for at least 20 minutes, two to four times a day. Third, compress the sprain by wrapping it with a stiff sports tape or ACE wrap. A physical therapist can show you a good wrapping technique. Finally, keep your foot lifted and supported above the level of your heart for at least two to four hours a day. 

Stick with RICE until you can walk easily, without pain. Certain physical therapy techniques such as joint mobilization, a light movement of the joint surfaces in the ankle, can help you reach an even faster recovery. Ask your physical therapist for details.

I sprained my ankle at a track meet. My coach wants me to see a physical therapist, but I say I can ice and wrap my ankle on my own. Is physical therapy worth my time?

You’re on the right track by using ice and a wrap for your ankle. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation–known as the RICE method–can reduce pain and swelling in your ankle and help get you back up to speed.

Your coach has a point, too. Research suggests that physical therapy helps ankle sprains heal faster than RICE alone. In a recent study, patients who had physical therapy had less pain and more ankle movement than patients who only had RICE. The therapy these patients received included specialized hands-on movement of the ankle joint. This technique, known as joint mobilization, may speed healing by improving movement in the ankle. 

Fortunately, the body has natural healing mechanisms, and your ankle will probably heal eventually, with or without help. But if you’re serious about getting back on the track faster, guided treatment with a physical therapist is your best bet.