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The Best Sprained Ankle Massage Techniques

by Patty Weasler, RN January 16, 2020 0 Comments

Ankle TENS Massage

A sprained ankle is a common sports injury where the ankle ligaments are stretched or torn. Utilizing a massage therapist who can perform a sprained ankle massage is an effective treatment option that can be done after the initial injury period has passed. Massage will help reduce swelling, minimize pain, and improve healing time. Read on to learn more about the best sprained ankle massage techniques and how they can work for you.

Is it Safe to Massage an Ankle Sprain?

After suffering a sprained ankle it’s important to know when it’s safe to begin massage therapy to prevent further injury. For the first 24 to 72 hours, you should avoid ankle massage. A trained massage therapist can lay hands on your ankle but shouldn’t give a true massage. Light touch should only be done as it can be beneficial for lymphatic circulation.

After the first 72 hours, it is safe to seek a massage for your ankle. But before you start, you need to make sure there are no broken bones, torn ligaments or tendons. A doctor can order an x-ray after an ankle injury to clear you for massage. Once you’ve been cleared, your massage therapist will perform massages that speed healing and prevent scar tissue from developing within the ankle joint. Proceed slowly, and if you aren’t experiencing any pain you can continue with deeper massages that work on the calf muscles.

Massage Therapy Techniques

Recovering from a sprained ankle can be a long, painful process. Adding massage therapy to your treatment plan can help you heal faster and back to the activities you love. Start by finding a highly trained massage therapist or licensed physical therapist to perform the massage. Now is not the time to perform self massage. Ankle injuries are serious and incorrect massage techniques can cause more injury.


Effleurage massage uses long gentle strokes to warm up the muscle before a deep massage. A massage therapist will use effleurage massage in combination with another massage to give you the best results. If you are still in the acute phase of an injury, the massage therapist may only use effleurage to prevent inducing pain or causing more injury to your ankle.

Typically, the therapist will start using these long strokes above the injury site moving the hands towards the heart. This serves to improve venous blood return and decrease swelling by encouraging fluid within the tissues to move out. After massage above the injury site, the therapist can move down below the injury if it doesn’t cause pain, using the same massage technique.

Cross Friction Massage Technique

Once you’ve recovered from the acute phase of injury cross friction massage will prevent scar tissue from forming and break up any existing scar tissue. Your massage therapist will massage specific areas based on which ankle ligaments are injured.

To start off your therapist will have your ankle in an inwards position to stretch the ankle ligaments. He or she will place pressure across the ligament both forwards and backward. The massage may be uncomfortable at first but should not be painful. Let your massage therapist know if you are experiencing any pain and they will adjust their pressure accordingly.

Therapeutic Massage

A therapeutic massage can be used after the recommended 72 hours. If you’ve suffered an inversion sprain that is caused by an inward rolled ankle your ligaments will likely be treated in plantar and dorsiflexion. The massage therapist treats the anterior talofibular ligament, calcaneofibular ligament, or the posterior talofibular ligament. The massage will be done for approximately 20 seconds at each site.

If your massage therapist is unsure of which ankle ligaments were involved in the injury all ligaments may be treated. This is still a safe method of treatment. Like all types of massage, if you are experiencing any pain let your massage therapist know so they can adjust their treatment.

Lymphatic Drainage

Lymphatic massage uses light pressure to move lymph through the lymphatic system. This large collection of vessels, nodes, and organs form a large portion of the immune system. Lymph fluid is a clear to white colored fluid that transports white blood cells to attack bacteria in the blood. A massage will move the slow moving lymph fluid through your body, improving your body’s ability to fight infection and transport excess fluid away from tissues.

After a sprained ankle you will experience significant swelling within the ankle, foot, and lower leg. The swelling is a result of fluid build up within the tissues. By encouraging lymphatic drainage through massage the fluid will be moved out of the tissue back into the vessels and carried away from the injury. Your massage therapist will use very light pressure during the massage. So light, in fact, you may hardly notice their touch.

Sports Massage

A sports massage will help you maintain your flexibility and range of motion during the recovery period. Normally, the therapist will apply a sports massage to your calf muscles and not directly to the injured ligaments. The massage technique is similar to the standard Swedish massage but focuses on sports related problems.

Your massage therapist will work on muscle tightness and knots in the lower leg. This will also help move fluid out and away from your ankle. The injured ankle will be prone to instability, with the help of a massage therapist and strengthening exercises, you won’t suffer a re-injury and get back to playing sports.

Massage Tips

The rehab period after spraining your ankle can be frustrating. The pain, bruising, and not being able to do any weight bearing movement takes its toll after a while. To help your healing process here are a few massage tips to keep in mind as you recover.

  • TENS Therapy

    TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) uses low levels of electrical stimulation to reduce pain and improve healing time. TENS therapy units are safe to use at home in between massage therapy sessions.

  • Less is More

    Remember to avoid direct pressure massages during the first 24 to 72 hours. Your ankle is still swelling and too much pressure in the acute phase can be both painful and harmful. A light touch massage, like a lymphatic massage, may be safe. But it’s best to talk to your doctor or physical therapist for clearance.

  • Speak Up

    An ankle massage should never be painful. Don’t be afraid to let your massage therapist know if their pressure too strong. Over massaging can lead to ankle instability, be an advocate for yourself and stay safe.

Massage for a Safe Recovery

A sprained ankle massage is a safe and effective adjunctive treatment for an ankle sprain. It will work fluid out of your tissues, improve healing time, and reduce overall pain. We recommend working with a highly trained massage therapist who specializes in sports injuries. And as always, talk to your doctor before you start a new treatment to assure that it is safe for your situation.





Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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