Questions: Which intervention(s) best augment early mobilisation and external support after an acute ankle sprain? What is the most appropriate method of preventing re-injury?
Design: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials published from 1993 to April 2005.
Participants: People with an acute ankle sprain.
Intervention: Any pharmacological, physiotherapeutic, complementary or electrotherapeutic intervention added to controlled mobilisation with external support. Immobilisation, surgical intervention, and use of external ankle supports in isolation were excluded.
Outcomes: Pain, function, swelling, re-injury, and global improvement; assessed at short, intermediate, and long-term follow-up.
Results: 23 trials were included with a mean PEDro score of 6/10. There was strong evidence that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and improve short-term ankle function. There was moderate evidence that neuromuscular training decreases functional instability and minimises re-injury; and that comfrey root ointment decreases pain and improves function. There was also moderate evidence that manual therapy techniques improve ankle dorsiflexion. There was no evidence to support the use of electrophysical agents or hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Very few long-term follow-ups were undertaken, and few studies focused on preventing long-term morbidity.
Conclusions: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, comfrey root ointment, and manual therapy can significantly improve short-term symptoms after ankle sprain, and neuromuscular training may prevent re-injury. More high quality studies are needed to develop evidence-based guidelines on ankle rehabilitation beyond the acute phases of injury management.