What is an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain is perhaps one of the most common acute foot and ankle injuries that occurs typically while participating in sport.
An ankle sprain occurs when the strong ligaments that support the ankle stretch beyond their limits and tear. Ankle sprains occur among people of all ages. Participating in sports, walking on uneven surfaces, or even wearing inappropriate footwear can all cause this type of injury.
They range from mild to severe, depending upon how much ligament damage occurs at the time of injury.
Most sprains are minor and heal with home treatments like rest and applying ice. However, if your ankle is very swollen and painful to walk on — or if you are having trouble putting weight on your ankle at all, be sure to see your Podiatrist.
Without proper treatment and rehabilitation, a more severe sprain can weaken your ankle—making it more likely that you will injure it again. Repeated ankle sprains can lead to long-term problems, including chronic ankle pain, arthritis, and ongoing instability.
All ligaments have a specific range of motion and boundaries that allow them to keep the joints stabilized. When ligaments surrounding the ankle are pushed past these boundaries, it causes a sprain. Sprained ankles most commonly involve injuries to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
Your Podiatrist can determine the severity of the injury and recommend a proper course of treatment. It can take several weeks or months for a sprained ankle to heal completely.
What Causes an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain often occurs when the foot suddenly twists or rolls, forcing the ankle joint out of its normal position. During physical activity, the ankle may twist inward (an ‘inversion sprain’) as a result of sudden or unexpected movement. This causes one or more ligaments around the ankle to stretch or tear. Some swelling or bruising can occur as a result of these tears. You may also feel pain or discomfort when you place weight on the affected area. Tendons, cartilage, and blood vessels might also be damaged due to the sprain.
You may have a sprained ankle if you notice the following symptoms in the ankle:
- Inability to put weight on the affected ankle
- Skin discoloration
The ankle can sustain many different types of injuries. It’s important to see your Podiatrist when you’re experiencing problems with your ankle who can determine whether the injury is a sprain or something more severe.
How Is an Ankle Sprain Diagnosed?
Your Podiatrist will perform a physical exam to determine which ligaments have been torn. During the exam, they will move your ankle joint in various ways to check your range of motion.
Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may also be ordered to rule out a bone fracture. An MRI may be done if there is suspicion of bone chipping, a serious injury to the ligaments, or damage to the surface of the ankle joint.
The surface of the ankle joint may be injured if the ligaments have been completely torn. If this is the case, then your ankle may be unstable even after the injury heals.
How Can I Prevent an Ankle Sprain?
You can lower your risk for future sprains by:
- Wrapping the affected ankle in an elastic bandage
- Wearing a brace, if necessary
- Performing strengthening / balancing exercises during recovery and prior to exercise.
- Avoiding high heels
- Warming up before exercising
- Wearing sturdy, quality footwear
- Paying attention to surfaces you’re walking on
- Slowing or stopping activities when you feel fatigued
When left untreated, an ankle sprain can lead to long-term pain and instability in the ankle.
What are the treatment options?
Surgery is not required in the vast majority of ankle sprains. Even in severe sprains, these ligaments will heal without surgery. The grade of the sprain will dictate treatment. Sprains are traditionally classified into several grades. Perhaps more important, however, is the patient’s ability to bear weight. Those that can bear weight even after the injury are likely to return very quickly to play. Those who cannot walk may need to be immobilized.
In general, treatment in the first 48 to 72 hours consists of resting the ankle, icing 20 minutes every two to three hours, a compressing wrap, and elevating, which means positioning the leg and ankle so that the toes are above the level of patient’s nose. Those patients who cannot bear weight are better treated in a removable walking boot until they can comfortably bear weight.
Physical therapy is a mainstay. Patients should learn to strengthen the muscles around the ankle, particularly the peroneals. An ankle brace can be used in an athlete until a therapist believes that the ankle is strong enough to return to play without it. Surgery is rarely indicated but may be needed in a patient who has cartilage damage or other related injuries.
Podiatrists at The Foot and Ankle Clinic have vast experience in diagnosing and treating Ankle Sprains and typically this treatment is very successful but involves a multifactorial approach. We also prescribe and supply a wide range of treatment aids to assist with rehabilitation and prevention of ankle sprains.
At the Foot and Ankle Clinic our highly qualified team of Podiatrists are all members of the Australian Podiatry Association and offer a combined 50 years’ experience. They are trained to diagnose and effectively treat Ankle Sprain via a range of treatments.
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