Sick of Your Sprained Ankle? Spice Up Your RICE

Ankle sprains happen often in sports, especially to runners and athletes in jumping sports. To treat an ankle sprain, RICE–or rest, ice, compression, and elevation–is just what the doctor ordered. But can anything else be done to get you back on your feet more quickly?

When you sprain your ankle, you lose the ability to fully bend your foot and ankle upward. When this movement, technically known as dorsiflexion, is painful, standing and walking on the injured ankle can hurt.

Physical therapists try to improve ankle dorsiflexion using a technique called joint mobilization. With the patient lying down, the physical therapist supports the ankle at about a 90-degree angle with one hand and assists movement of the ankle joint with the other. In this study, the authors wanted to know whether this technique, in which the therapist adds hands on mobilization, helped patients more than RICE alone. 

Thirty-eight people with sprained ankles were divided into two groups. One group got regular RICE treatments. The other group got RICE plus joint mobilization. Patients were treated every other day for two weeks, or until they felt able to return to normal activity. They were tested before and after each treatment to check for changes in their ankle movement and walking.

Though patients got better no matter what their treatment, they got better faster when they had joint mobilization in addition to RICE. Patients who had joint mobilization needed fewer treatment sessions. They showed pain-free ankle movement sooner, and they were able to walk more quickly than those who only had RICE. A few other factors, such as how long patients could stand with their weight on the injured leg, did not change with the treatment they received.

Fortunately, the body has some natural healing mechanisms. Either on its own or with help, a sprained ankle will heal eventually. Still, this study suggests that a little “laying on of hands” can go a long way toward getting you back on the track or field.