Given how relaxing it can be, it’s natural to wonder how to massage a sprained ankle. Or if it’s appropriate at all.
Massage therapy can be a great way to treat ankle sprains – as long as your symptoms allow you to, of course.
Below, you’ll learn whether massaging is suitable for your sprain, and if so, how to do it. Here are the topics we discuss, tap on any of them to quickly go there:
How soon after an ankle sprain is it okay to do a massage?
There are two benchmarks you should clear first before trying out a therapeutic massage:
1) Duration of your injury
Wait until at least 72 hours after your ankle sprain. At this point, the muscles around your joint might be able to tolerate more manual pressure without risking any flare-ups in your symptoms.
2) Your symptoms
This is the most important one, as you can go through different symptoms after an ankle sprain.
If it’s a mild sprain, the pain will likely be more manageable. This allows you to do a massage after the 3-day mark. But this is not the case for severe sprains, as there’s a high risk of ankle fracture.
In the latter, doing a massage will only make it worse. So, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, get your ankle checked immediately (1):
- You are unable to take at least 4 steps on your injured ankle.
- You feel a sharp pain when touching your outer and inner ankle bones, and/or the middle of your foot.
This can help: Is it a broken ankle or a sprain?
4 sprained ankle massage techniques
A quick note – doing self-massage can be tricky depending on the condition of your injury. Additionally, some techniques require hours of training or certifications just to be done properly.
This article is a guide, but not a comprehensive tutorial. That’s why I still recommend seeking the services of a qualified massage therapist. This will prevent you from worsening the injury.
With that said, these are the most effective massage techniques for ankle sprains:
This technique uses light pressure over your skin rhythmically and is done in one direction only. This brings about relaxation and increases blood flow to your muscles and ligaments. (2)
Additionally, effleurage can be done with other massage treatments. It’s usually done at the beginning and end of each massage therapy session. (3)
Here’s how to do effleurage on your ankle:
- Sit on your bed with your ankle resting on your thigh.
- Apply baby oil or lotion on the skin.
- Use the palm of your hands and fingers to apply a light pressure from your ankle up to your knee.
- On each stroke, use a different path than the previous one.
- Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.
2) Cross friction massage
This technique uses pressure to break down scar tissue adhesions, which can speed healing as a result. (2)
See, scar tissue can form after a ligament injury. It’s brought on by abnormal collagen formation. The problem is that it’s a weaker tissue compared to a healthy ligament. (4)
But this technique may help remodel these scar adhesions, making them healthier and stronger.
Here’s how to do a cross-fiber friction massage on your ankle:
- Sit with your injured ankle placed on your thigh.
- Locate your injured ligament.
- Place your index and middle finger on it, pointing them downwards towards the floor.
- Rub the tissue with your fingers. This will cause mild to moderate pain/discomfort – it’s part of the technique.
- Do this for 30 to 60 seconds.
Note: The pain should not be intense. On a scale of 1 to 10, keep the pain under 4 or 5. More than that and you’ll do more harm than good.
3) Lymphatic drainage massage
Swelling is a typical symptom after an ankle sprain. This may last a few days or weeks, depending on how badly you rolled your ankle.
But this technique can quickly reduce inflammation by leveraging your lymphatic system. This is a network of vessels that collects excess fluid and drains it back to your circulatory system, preventing its buildup. (5)
Here’s how to do lymphatic drainage on your ankle:
- Lay on your bed, with the ankle joint elevated over a few pillows.
- Apply baby oil or lotion over your lower leg.
- Using both hands, slowly rub them upwards from your foot to your knee.
- Cover a different area in each stroke – the front, back, and sides of your lower leg.
- Do this for 5 to 10 minutes.
4) Myofascial release
Myofascial release helps restore flexibility, decrease pain, and increase ankle function. (6) It primarily targets your muscles and fascia – a large connective tissue covering your entire body.
One purpose of this technique is to improve your ankle dorsiflexion. This is the name of the movement where your foot is pointed upwards.
Research shows that lacking this movement may increase your risk of having an ankle sprain. (6) Neglecting this may cause a re-injury.
Here’s how to do a myofascial release on your ankle:
- Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you.
- Place a tennis ball underneath the calf of your affected leg.
- With your hands on the floor, carry your weight as you slowly roll your calf over the tennis ball.
- Go over your inner and outer calf muscles and look for any sore or tender spots
- To add more pressure, place your good leg over your shin and/or point the injured foot towards the ceiling.
- Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.
Other treatment techniques for acute ankle sprains
The treatment will depend on the severity of your injury. Apart from massage, other options include:
1) Home remedies
Pain and swelling from mild sprains can be effectively reduced by home treatments. (7) These include:
This stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Doing these can reduce the pain and swelling during the first days after the injury.
This can help: How to ice an ankle sprain?
Ankle taping or bracing
To protect your ankle from further injury, you might need to limit its movement temporarily. Bracing or taping your ankle can help you with that.
Go for a brace if you prioritize practicality. But if you are looking for a nice fit, try taping instead.
Learn more: How to tape an ankle sprain?
Aside from massage therapy, you can also start doing exercises once you have cleared both benchmarks. This will help regain your ankle’s strength and flexibility.
2) Physical therapy
A physical therapist will get your sprain in tip-top shape regardless of the severity of your injury by:
- Alleviating your symptoms with manual and thermotherapies.
- Building a more durable ankle with therapeutic exercises.
- Teaching you proper movement strategies to prevent future injuries.
Acute ankle sprains, regardless of severity, usually do well with nonsurgical treatments. But a few exceptions that may require surgery are injuries with (8):
- Unstable fractures.
- Cartilage defects.
- Tendon tears.
Is it bad to massage a sprained ankle?
No, it might help speed up the healing process of your ankle ligaments. As long as you can tolerate some manual pressure on your joint, it’s okay to do a massage.
What helps a sprained ankle heal faster?
By giving the right and swift medical attention to your ankle. This includes doing RICE therapy, booking massage therapy sessions, or consulting a physical therapist.
Further reading: How to heal your ankle sprain fast?
Is massage good for ankle pain?
Yes! It can improve blood flow, relieving both pain and swelling.
Conclusion: How to massage an ankle sprain
Treating ankle sprains with massage is a great skill to learn. Some techniques require a bit of practice more than others, but with time and effort, you’ll be able to rehab your ankle in no time.
- Bachmann, Lucas M et al. “Accuracy of Ottawa ankle rules to exclude fractures of the ankle and mid-foot: systematic review.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 326,7386 (2003): 417. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.326.7386.417
- Mobarakeh M, Mehdi et al. “Effect of Friction Technique on Ankle Sprain Grade II Treatment.“ Biomed Pharmacol J 2015;8(2). DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.13005/bpj/794
- Park, Jeonguk et al. “Application of massage for ankle joint flexibility and balance.” Journal of physical therapy science vol. 29,5 (2017): 789-792. doi: 10.1589/jpts.29.789
- Hildebrand, K A, and C B Frank. “Scar formation and ligament healing.” Canadian journal of surgery. Journal canadien de chirurgie vol. 41,6 (1998): 425-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3949797/
- Ozdowski L, Gupta V. Physiology, Lymphatic System. [Updated 2021 May 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557833/
- Stanek, Justin et al. “Comparison of Compressive Myofascial Release and the Graston Technique for Improving Ankle-Dorsiflexion Range of Motion.” Journal of athletic training vol. 53,2 (2018): 160-167. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-386-16
- “Sports Injuries.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. September 2021. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sports-injuries
- Al-Mohrej, Omar A, and Nader S Al-Kenani. “Acute ankle sprain: conservative or surgical approach?.” EFORT open reviews vol. 1,2 34-44. 13 Mar. 2017, doi: 10.1302/2058-5241.1.000010