Sprained Ankle

What is it and when to see a doctor?

A sprained ankle is one of the most common ankle injuries. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Ankle sprains occur when you roll, twist, or turn your ankle, stretching or tearing the ligaments supporting and holding your ankle together.

You’ll often experience ankle sprain during athletic events or everyday activities. Sports matches are among the most common causes due to dynamic and rapid movements. For example, when a basketball player lands awkwardly after a jump.

There are two main types of ankle sprain:

1. Inversion ankle sprains.
The most common type of ankle sprain is caused by the foot turning inwards (inverting). It will stretch the outer — or lateral — ligaments, supporting the outer side of the ankle joint. Inversion sprains comprise around 90% of all ankle sprains.

2. Eversion ankle sprains.
These are much less common, as the foot is less likely to twist outwards. The inner — or deltoid ligament — is stretched, producing inner-side pain in the ankle joint.

High ankle sprains are a rare possibility. Here, the ligament connecting the two bones of the lower leg (the syndesmosis) is sprained. It has a complex recovery process.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Ankle pain
  • Swelling of the ankle joint
  • Bruising around the ankle joint (including the foot and toes)
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Difficulty walking
  • Inability to bend ankle up or down

When the doctor assesses the problem, they’ll categorize its severity into three grades:

1. (Mild) Minimal stretching, no tearing. You’ll experience minor swelling and tenderness to touch.

2. (Moderate) Partial tear. Your ankle will swell and hurt to move.

3. (Severe) Complete tear. You’ll find working difficult. There’ll be significant swelling, and the injury will be painful.

Most mild ankle sprains will subside with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). However, moderate or severe injuries should be seen by a podiatrist. If you have any of the following symptoms, always seek a doctor:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Significant ankle swelling
  • Persistent symptoms (greater than a few days)
  • Foot or above-the-ankle pain

These signs can indicate a potential fracture has occurred. In which case, you’ll need an X-ray to assess the level of damage.

This injury can present similarly to fractures. After the podiatrist has taken your history and performed a physical exam, you’ll likely need an X-ray to eliminate other potential causes.

The doctor will examine your range of motion during the physical exam, identifying the ligaments affected.

MRI scans, CT scans, and even ultrasounds can be recommended in severe cases. These can provide a more detailed picture of your bones or help visualize the soft tissue internal structures, like ligaments.

Most ankle sprains will respond to PRICE in the first 24 to 48 hours after injury (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation):

  • Protection. Your doctor may give you a splint or brace to limit use, and crutches are often advised.
  • Rest. You should limit activity that may exacerbate the sprain for several days.
  • Ice. Applying ice to the joint — with a towel against the skin — will reduce the swelling.
  • Compression. A moderately tight elastic bandage can help decrease the swelling.
  • Elevation. It’s recommended when you’re lying down or sitting, that the ankle should be higher than your heart.

Your sprained ankle doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., NSAIDs — ibuprofen or naproxen) to further help relieve the pain and swelling. In time, your doctor will want you to resume sports and other physical activities to see how well your ankle responds.

In severe circumstances, ankle sprains may necessitate balance and stability exercises to help regain strength. These exercises — such as standing on one leg — will work on your ankle muscles, strengthening their support of the joint.

In rare cases, surgery is the only option. It’s reserved for an ankle sprain where the ligament won’t heal or the ankle remains unstable for a prolonged period.

Our podiatrists can treat your sprained ankle.

Make an appointment for a comprehensive evaluation with Foot & Ankle Centers today.

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