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How to Heal Your Old Sprains and Strains

Ross McCormack Ankle InjuryDo you have an old sprain (over stretched ligament) or an old strain (torn muscle, tendon or ligament)? Or a bad ankle that you injured with a wrong turn?

With the traditional R.I.C.E. treatment (rest, ice, compress and elevate), your immediate pain and swelling eventually leaves, then you slowly start reusing your injured joint-knowing it could happen all over again with the wrong move. But that’s just managing the pain; it’s not healing an injury.

The Problem

So what do you do with that bad ankle you keep spraining? You probably tried stretching and exercise, and it helped for a while. Taking anti-inflammatories, muscles relaxers and pain pills manage your discomfort, but aren’t solving the problem. Your doc tells you surgery is not an option, which is actually a relief. So what IS the solution?

To really fix it, and have it stay fixed, you need to treat the causes. First, you need to “fix” your soft tissue – muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia – the thin connective tissue that hold everything together. At some point, after the first injury and a little more each time, your soft tissue became encased in scar tissue. This is only because  your body did what it  should do: it sent fibroblasts, “the mending cells”, to the injured area to weld together and support the injury. But once the injury healed, the body’s natural cast did not dissolve away as it might have when you were a child. Now you’re stuck with this connective tissue “cast” after you’re well.

Additionally, while you’re limping around and protecting the injury,  other parts of your body tighten up, and you develop bad habits in your movement.  For instance, using the other leg and twisting not to hurt the injured ankle, creates a structural and behavior pattern that, in the end, can be worse than the original injury. Parts of your body are tense and distorted, while other parts are structurally weak and vulnerable. Now you’re an injury waiting to happen.

The Solution

Complete healing must involve releasing the fascial (scar tissue) adhesions. That “cast” that your body didn’t dissolve has to be manually dissolved. Feel the ankle you keep spraining, compare it to the one that is relatively normal. The bad ankle is less moveable and thicker. This thick and hard tissue should be thin, subtle and fluid. The tendons of the foot coming from the muscles in the lower leg should slide through your ankle. Your thick, tight band prevents natural movement.

Rolfing will slowly release this band. It’s  amazing to feel in just a few minutes of work how much movement is possible. It’ll feel like you took off the steel band and oiled the cables running through your ankle. Once it’s released, circulation and elasticity also increase, helping you heal even faster.

The more challenging work is the re-aligning of the body from years of compensating. Once everything is released, we need to re-organize your whole body – that’s where Rolfing goes beyond other therapies.

Often, a secondary problem-indirectly caused by the original injury–are what brings a client to me. You might come in complaining of a worsening back problem. As I watch you walk and ask you questions, we may figure out that your back problems started after you sprained your ankle. Your normal walk now has a subtle limp that gradually caused other problems. Others could see it, but it felt normal to you because you adapted.  You’ll need to unlearn that limp. You can fix the ankle, you can align the body, but you still need to re-educate the body.

After the re-alignment,  your ankle will be less susceptible to injury, and so will your entire body. While operating my clinic in Scottsdale I treated many world-class runners who continued to sprain ankles. It was amazing to hear these runners talk about how accustomed they became to the slow process of tightening. When their ankle and its related problems healed, their performance went to a new level. Every time. With every client.

I have a 37-year-old client right now, who is training for a half-marathon. She had sprained knees, sprained ankles, and terrible movement habits. But after a few Rolfing sessions, she tells me, “I run better and faster than I did when I was 18!” Every body performs better from releasing the old scar tissue. We often don’t know what we lost until we get it back.

The Daily Bee wrote this addendum to the article:

Rolf pain away with Rolfing treatments.

What is Rolfing and why would anybody want to be Rolfed? Bee publisher David Keyes thought about these questions and many more last week when he visited Owen Marcus, who is a Certified Advance Rolfer.

Keyes said he had heard of Rolfing but didn’t know what it meant before deciding to try a session with Marcus who has Rolfed more than 30 years. Through the years, he has treated accident victims, weekend warriors, professional athletes and average individuals who walk around with too much stress, which tightens their muscles and causes all sorts of problems.

For the rest of this blog, go on-line to and check it out, as well as the rest of the Bee’s blogs.

Owen Marcus, MA Certified Advance Rolfer,, 208.265.8440.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Paige August 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm

How would an old thumb sprain be healed/corrected by Rolfing?


admin August 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm

That is a hard one. It depends where the sprain is. Essentially you want to release the connective tissue that is scarred then guide the structure back in place. When something is hyper-mobile – too loose and prone to sprains, something else is too tight.


mico mico October 6, 2012 at 8:11 am

i have an old injury on my left my ankle,it’s over 3years now.when it happened i didn’t seek for a doctor,instead i look for a massage therapist. it’s gone for a while but everytime iplayed basketball or too much walking it feels so painful and irritable.sometimes i can’t hardly walk. i asked my doctor and took an xray and he found no fracture on bone,he also said that what causes the pain is that there’s a new tissue growing to where the injury was.he just gave me an anti inflammatory medicine and told me to performed some hot compressed. but still untill now it’s still the same pain i feel. can you help me heal and solve my problem please. many thanks!


admin October 6, 2012 at 8:21 am


Your description is text book for chronic a facial adhesion. I never know how much I can help a client until I see them, but I can say I’ve helped many with very similar conditions.

You are right, over time the soft tissue strain will produce more bone. That happened to my heels before I was Rolfed.


Cynthia October 17, 2012 at 2:20 am

Hi, I injured my knee 2 years ago playing soccer, a girl from the other team hit me in my right knee, she slide tackled me on the outside of my right knee, which immediately knocked me down, I felt a huge pop. A week later I went to an orthopedic specialist, he said I sprained my acl, gave me a brace and activities, I wore the brace just like he said, I did not do the excercises, the resting or the post therapy. Now I get this massive pain once every 2 weeks or so, and I starts from my acl to the middle of my knee, could this be because of my acl sprain did not heal right or could it be something more?

Thanks, cynthia


admin October 17, 2012 at 4:22 am

Cynthia – good question.

It certain be more than your ACL. But without seeing you I can’t say. Chronic problems often have many components which means that until they all are dealt with the problem doesn’t permanently go away. Specifically, if your leg is misaligned or tracks improperly it can be adding to your problem.

Good luck,



Ben January 26, 2013 at 11:59 am

In 1991 I ripped the ligaments in my left ankle (ie. it was completely seperated). It was operated, but recently it started to swell again right below the old scar, and it starts to hurt even more while walking. Is this the old injury or something completely new? After the operation i even served in the military and it was ok, and for over 10 years it was as good as new. I havent hurt the ankle to my recollection.


admin January 27, 2013 at 8:28 am


It is possible the old scar tissue and/or the compensation pattern set this up. Rolfing could help. Acupuncture may help the actual joint. Good luck.


Sai Tarun March 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

This article helped me a lot to know my problem.

as mentioned by one person, i might be going through “chronic a facial adhesion”
I wanted to know where do you cure by Rolfing. I am going through this problem for almost 2 years now !!
please help me !!


admin March 18, 2013 at 11:46 am

The reason Rolfing works and last is that we treat more than the symptom. The cause varies per person, so I’m sorry I can’t say where we would treat it.


Ayman April 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm

How would I go about healing a glute medius strain and an imbalanced pelvic ?


admin April 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm

For my money – Rolfing. When I had my clinic in AZ I had several athletes with your problem. Releasing the strain is only half of it. Releasing then organizing the body is the other half of it. I suggest find a good Rolfer.


Cynthia Phillips May 26, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Cold compress helps a bit, but my doctor advises to use bands also and I take some pain reliever. Hearing about this program makes me want to know more. Thanks for sharing!


admin May 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Cynthia, cold is best for acute sprains, but for the old ones you need to look for something more. Good luck.


Gary September 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I Hurt my ankle many many years ago (30 years). Was placed in a cast and went through the normal processes to getting better. I never ever thought about it again until it reared it’s head much later in life. My trigger, driving the wrong car. I have on 3 occasions have had to return cars due to the uncomfortableness. The ankle will start to feel very tight, will feel achy. The constant aching seems to be originating in the back of the foot, above the heel. It will travel up my leg to my shin.
For some reason when i sit in a car with either the wrong angle of the gas pedal or the seat position it sets it off. It subsides within a week once I get back into a car that doesn’t cause this. I need to resolve this, i cannot keep trading cars back in..very expensive.
Thank you for any and all feedback.


Owen Marcus October 14, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Trading cars can’t be cheap. I say, get Rolf – treat the chronic soft tissue strain. I’ve had many clients with similar issues over the years that were greatly helped by Rolfing.


Maureen W October 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I sustained a severe ankle injury 7 years ago, followed through with physio therapy and two years later had another injury, this time it was both ankles. Was diagnosed with a Lis Franc injury where the metatarsals were crushed together, plus torn tendons and ligaments in both ankles but fortunately no fractures which was amazing. Had extensive physio therapy for many months which helped get the metatarsals back into position. Then I tried acupuncture for a long time but all it seemed to do was mask the pain for a while and then it would return again. Over time I found the pain becoming less and thought I was getting better but found I had been compensating for the pain by the way I walked and creating more problems elsewhere. I looked at the option of surgery a few times but the more I thought of surgery, the more I wanted to avoid it. Then I heard about NMT (Neuro Muscular Therapy) which seems to be the magic treatment right now and it’s working. My goal is to continue this route and hope I can be pain free in 6 to 12 months from now. It’s been a long road but perseverance pays off.


elg October 28, 2013 at 9:57 am

it’s been 8 months since i injured my left wrist. it took the force of a complete downward thrust. because of the lack of healing, i finally went to see a dr. who has shared that from this point on i will always have issues with the wrist… (i did not have any broken bones) i couldn’t believe this. could rolfing or foam rolling the fore arm assist with this issue? thanks for continuing to answer questions!!


Owen Marcus October 28, 2013 at 10:16 am

I had a similar thing with my wrist and Rolfing was a huge help. “If it’s soft tissue – Rolfing can be the thing.”


Jack Plissken July 26, 2014 at 12:52 am

I have an old injury along the fourth and fifth rib (from the bottom) on my left side. It was a really long time ago, about 15 years ago. When I was a kid of 13, I tried to see how many sit ups I could do. I did 113, felt great and like I could keep going but didn’t. I went to bed and next day was in real bad pain. I went to the docs and he told me it was torn and to just rest and it would heal itself. After a while the pain stopped. But then when I got older the pain started to return as I put on weight. I lost the weight and the pain stopped. I put on some weight again and it started again. I’ve started to work out again but the pain isn’t going this time. It’s been keeping me up throughout the night. I have to try and roll very slowly and catch myself in a spot where it doesn’t hurt, kneel on the floor with my chest on the bed, walk around or resort to painkillers which I try to avoid. I know this is a very old injury and the chance of anything being done about it are slim to none but the lost sleep is doing me in. Has anyone any advice?


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