Detailed, evidence-based help for common painful problems

Severe ankle sprains need a full cast, not just bracing, bandaging

PainSci » bibliography » Lamb et al 2009
Tags: treatment, counter-intuitive, self-treatment, random, fun, scientific medicine

Four articles on PainSci cite Lamb 2009: 1. Sports Injury Prevention Tips2. Mobilize!3. The Art of Rest4. Masking Symptoms Is Under-Rated

PainSci summary of Lamb 2009: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

It’s been in vogue in physical therapy for a long time now to “mobilize” injuries as quickly as possible — probably too much in vogue. In the zeal to get people on their feet again ASAP, serious sprains — which are worse than fractures in some ways — are almost never put in a cast. Turns out that’s a mistake. A 2009 experiment published in the Lancet presents clear evidence that a full cast for a severe ankle sprain is superior to the almost universal practice of using braces and tubular compression bandages. The editors write, “This elegant study highlights the need for trials to address common problems.”

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Severe ankle sprains are a common presentation in emergency departments in the UK. We aimed to assess the effectiveness of three different mechanical supports (Aircast brace, Bledsoe boot, or 10-day below-knee cast) compared with that of a double-layer tubular compression bandage in promoting recovery after severe ankle sprains.

METHODS: We did a pragmatic, multicentre randomised trial with blinded assessment of outcome. 584 participants with severe ankle sprain were recruited between April, 2003, and July, 2005, from eight emergency departments across the UK. Participants were provided with a mechanical support within the first 3 days of attendance by a trained health-care professional, and given advice on reducing swelling and pain. Functional outcomes were measured over 9 months. The primary outcome was quality of ankle function at 3 months, measured using the Foot and Ankle Score; analysis was by intention to treat. This study is registered as an International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial, number ISRCTN37807450.

RESULTS: Patients who received the below-knee cast had a more rapid recovery than those given the tubular compression bandage. We noted clinically important benefits at 3 months in quality of ankle function with the cast compared with tubular compression bandage (mean difference 9%; 95% CI 2·4—15·0), as well as in pain, symptoms, and activity. The mean difference in quality of ankle function between Aircast brace and tubular compression bandage was 8%; 95% CI 1·8—14·2, but there were little differences for pain, symptoms, and activity. Bledsoe boots offered no benefit over tubular compression bandage, which was the least effective treatment throughout the recovery period. There were no significant differences between tubular compression bandage and the other treatments at 9 months. Side-effects were rare with no discernible differences between treatments. Reported events (all treatments combined) were cellulitis (two cases), pulmonary embolus (two cases), and deep-vein thrombosis (three cases).

Interpretation: A short period of immobilisation in a below-knee cast or Aircast results in faster recovery than if the patient is only given tubular compression bandage. We recommend below-knee casts because they show the widest range of benefit.

Funding:National Co-ordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment.

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