Ankle sprains are common sports injuries. In fact, foot and ankle injuries account for more than 60% of all athletic mishaps. Sports that are played on uneven surfaces or require quick, side-to-side movements create risk factors for ankle injuries.
A sprain injures one or more of the ligaments in the ankle, typically on the outside of the joint. Ligaments on the inside and outside of the ankle act as strong, stabilizing bands by limiting abnormal side-to-side movement.
An ankle sprain is often caused by a sudden twisting movement. Some sprains can be mild while others are severe, depending on if a ligament is stretched or partially or completely torn.
Have pain and swelling on the outside of your ankle? Bruising? Difficulty walking with pain and stiffness? You may have a sprain.
After a significant ankle injury, seek prompt medical attention to rule out a fracture and possible cartilage damage. A podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon or family care physician can grade the ankle sprain and recommend appropriate treatment, based on evaluation of x-rays or other radiography.
Think RICE! Rest. Ice. Compression (ace wrap) will help limit swelling. Elevation will also help decrease pain and swelling. Limit walking until pain subsides and RICE should be employed during the first 72 hours since this is the inflammatory period of the body.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and inflammation. An ankle may need to be immobilized for proper healing. It takes six to eight weeks for soft tissue and four to six weeks for bone to heal. If this is not treated properly, chronic ankle instability can occur and cause continued weakness, injuries and/or recurrent sprains.
Wearing an ankle brace beyond this time frame may also be recommended to prevent re-injury and long-term complications.
Early range of motion exercises and physical therapy will promote healing and increase range of motion. Treatments may include ultrasound, electrostimulation, massage and strengthening to help an athlete return to previous performance capabilities quickly and without possible continued complications.
If pain is not resolved from non-surgical treatment, surgery may be needed. Sometimes advanced imaging studies (like an MRI) may be required. Many surgical options are available, including arthroscopic (minimally invasive) procedures.