A sprained ankle is the most common sports injury. In fact, it has been estimated that 25,000 ankle sprains occur each day in the US. Sprains occur when the strong bands of tissue that hold our joints together, called ligaments, stretch or tear. This happens when we twist or roll our ankle suddenly and exceed a ligament’s normal length. In the ankle, this typically involves the ligaments on the outside of our ankle.
What happened when you sprained your ankle?
If you have rolled your ankle inward, which is a motion the ankle typically does with ease, instead you did it too quickly. Normally this is a result of a misstep while walking or stepping on someone else’s foot while playing sports. The sudden inward motion injures the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Initially, there is swelling as blood flows to the site of the injury. Discoloration may occur within hours and may last days or even weeks.
What are the symptoms of a sprained ankle?
Swelling may be subtle if it is a mild injury and typically involves the outside of the ankle, or it could be dramatic if it is a higher energy injury and may involve the entire ankle. You may be able to walk on a mild sprain, but you will likely limp. If you cannot walk on the ankle then you should seek medical attention immediately.
How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?
Your physician will examine your ankle for swelling, bruising, and deformity. There is typically tenderness when pressing on the ligaments around the ankle, but if there is tenderness on the bony prominences, then you should have an X-ray of your ankle. The physician will check the range of motion of your ankle which will likely be less than normal both because of the swelling and pain. The amount of swelling, pain, and the location of the injury will determine the treatment.
How is an ankle sprain treated?
If you think you have sprained your ankle the first thing to do is remove yourself from any activity that may create further injury. Elevate the ankle and apply ice and a compressive wrap – like an ace bandage or an ankle brace that can be picked up in many pharmacies. For less severe sprains, it is best to start moving as soon as possible and place weight on the ankle with a light wrap or brace. More severe sprains may require a period of immobilization and potential use of crutches. It may take days, weeks or even months to return to normal. Throughout this time, even if the pain is improved, the ankle may continue to swell with activities, but should improve over night. If you seem to stop improving, make sure you see an orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation. You may return to activities without restrictions once you have regained full, pain free range of motion, have no pain with activities and demonstrate normal strength.
How can I prevent an ankle sprain?
If you participate in activities that put you at risk of ankle sprains, like ball sports, then it is important to keep your ankles strong and treat even mild injuries with rest until they have healed. Playing on an injured ankle may put you at further risk of injury of the ankle or elsewhere. Some studies have shown that people with recurrent sprains may benefit from using a brace or having their ankles taped during activities. Finally, if you continue to sprain your ankle despite using these precautions, you should see an orthopedic surgeon to determine if your ankle will require a focused rehabilitation program or surgery.