Managing ankle sprains in primary care: what is best practice? A systematic review of the last 10 years of evidence

Br Med Bull. 2011:97:105-35. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldq028. Epub 2010 Aug 14.


To summarize the best available evidence in the last decade for managing ankle sprains in the community, data were collected using MEDLINE database from January 2000 to December 2009. Terms utilized: 'ankle injury primary care' (102 articles were found), 'ankle sprain primary care' (34 articles), 'ankle guidelines primary care' (25 articles), 'ankle pathways primary care' (2 articles), 'ankle sprain community' (18 articles), 'ankle sprain general practice' (22 articles), 'Cochrane review ankle' (58 articles). Of these, only 33 satisfied the inclusion criteria. The search terms identified many of the same studies. Two independent reviewers reviewed the articles. The study results and generated conclusions were extracted, discussed and finally agreed on. Ankle sprains occur commonly but their management is not always readily agreed. The Ottawa Ankle Rules are ubiquitous in the clinical pathway and can be reliably applied by emergency care physicians, primary care physicians and triage nurses. For mild-to-moderate ankle sprains, functional treatment options (which can consist of elastic bandaging, soft casting, taping or orthoses with associated coordination training) were found to be statistically better than immobilization for multiple outcome measures. For severe ankle sprains, a short period of immobilization in a below-knee cast or pneumatic brace results in a quicker recovery than tubular compression bandage alone. Lace-up supports are a more effective functional treatment than elastic bandaging and result in less persistent swelling in the short term when compared with semi-rigid ankle supports, elastic bandaging and tape. Semi-rigid orthoses and pneumatic braces provide beneficial ankle support and may prevent subsequent sprains during high-risk sporting activity. Supervised rehabilitation training in combination with conventional treatment for acute lateral ankle sprains can be beneficial, although some of the studies reviewed gave conflicting outcomes. Therapeutic hyaluronic acid injections in the ankle are a relatively novel non-surgical treatment but may have a role in expediting return to sport after ankle sprain. There is a role for surgical intervention in severe acute and chronic ankle injuries, but the evidence is limited.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Ankle Injuries / therapy*
  • Compression Bandages
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Humans
  • Immobilization / methods
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Sprains and Strains / therapy*