Explaining what sprains are and how they happen, with specialized treatment options and rehabilitation to strengthen and protect your ankle.
What exactly is a sprain?
Even though ankle sprains are common—some 25,000 people do it every day—most of us do not know what an actual sprain involves. When one or more ligaments on the outer side of your ankle are stretched or torn, you have a sprained ankle.
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?
How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?
Your Summit foot specialist will want to know what you were doing when you sprained your ankle. They will examine your ankle and may take an X-ray to make sure no bones are broken. In certain cases, an MRI may be necessary to determine the extent of your injury.
First degree sprain:
- Stretched ligaments
- Without tearing or significant laxity (softness/slackness)
Second degree sprain:
- Partial tearing of ligament fibers
- Mild to moderate laxity
Third degree sprain:
- Complete rupture of the ligament
- Significant laxity
What are my treatment options?
You will want to treat your sprained ankle properly in order to prevent problems with instability and chronic pain down the road. Treatment typically prescribed by Summit Orthopedics physicians is as follows:
For a first degree sprain:
- Follow the R.I.C.E. acronym:
- Rest – avoid walking on your ankle
- Ice – will keep swelling down
- Compression – bandages will immobilize and support
- Elevation – keep ankle above heart
For a second degree sprain:
- Follow the R.I.C.E. guidelines
- Allow more time for healing
- A splint or immobilizer may be used
For a third degree sprain:
- Short leg cast or walking boot for 2-3 weeks
- Surgery may be needed
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.