The ankle joint is made of a complex assortment of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. On the medial (inside) side of the ankle, the deltoid ligament prevents the ankle joint from rolling out (eversion). Meanwhile, on the lateral (outside) aspect of the ankle, there are three separate ligaments that prevent the ankle from rolling in (inversion). If the ankle is stressed beyond its normal end range of motion, the ligaments can be sprained. Certain bones of the ankle and foot can become fractured if the injury is severe.
Why do sprains happen?
When your toes are on the ground and your heel is in the air, you are most susceptible to experiencing a sprain. In this position, both your ligaments are stretched and in a vulnerable position. So, for example, in that awkward moment when you lose your balance and land just the wrong way or when you lose your footing on an uneven surface and turn your ankle inward, you may injure one, two, or all three of your ligaments.
What are common symptoms?
Symptoms of an ankle sprain vary in presentation and severity, and this list should only be thought of as a generalization.
- Pain, swelling, and bruising
- May be difficult to bear weight on the injured leg, making it painful to walk.
How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?
- First-Degree: Stretching of the ligaments without any tearing or significant laxity.
- Second-Degree: Stretching of the ligaments with partial tearing of the fibers, resulting in mild to moderate laxity.
- Third-Degree: Complete rupture of the ligaments and significant laxity.
What are my treatment options?
Many ankle sprains heal routinely without any advanced care.
- Rest: Modify activities as your symptoms allow. Some patients may need a crutch or walking boot for activity to be comfortable.
- Ice: Putting a bag of ice on your ankle for twenty minutes five to six times a day can limit swelling and help control pain.
- Compression: Wrapping an Ace bandage from your toes up to your calf can prevent swelling.
- Elevation: Elevate your leg as high into the air as possible and use gravity to let the swelling drain from your ankle.
What can I expect my results to be after treatment?
Your ankle sprain is a ligament injury and needs rehabilitation. Otherwise, your ankle might not heal completely and could be susceptible to re-injury. There are three phases of recovery for all ankle sprains:
- First phase: rest, protect, and reduce swelling
- Second phase: restore flexibility, range of motion and strength
- Third phase: gradual return to straight-ahead activity, maintenance exercise
Once your ankle can bear your full weight, your Summit physician will prescribe exercises to strengthen your muscles and ligaments, and increase your flexibility, balance, and coordination. You may have your ankle taped or in a supportive brace for walking and running.
How long until I’m better?
Your recovery time depends on the severity of your sprain. But no matter what type of sprain you experience, rehabilitation is the key to strengthening and protecting your ankle from future injury. Without rehabilitation, your ankle may cause chronic pain and instability, and you may develop arthritis. Let your Summit foot and ankle specialist know if your ankle still hurts even after rehabilitation. They will examine you to make sure the sprained ligament has healed correctly and that there is not some other injury causing problems.
To prevent future sprained ankles, stay in shape and maintain good muscle balance, flexibility, and strength in your soft tissues. Pay attention to your body’s warning signs to slow down when you feel pain or fatigue.
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