Sprained ankle injuries are painful and easy to acquire. Sprain an ankle takes a lot of force, but even the tiniest misstep can cause lasting damage under the right conditions. Severe sprains range in severity, ranging from mild tweaks to moderate stress responses (with pain) and severe dislocations (requiring surgery). It's important to contact your doctor immediately following any injury. The time between the onset of symptoms and treatment is crucial for proper healing.
What is a Sprained Ankle?
Sprained ankles are among the most common injuries—approximately twenty-five thousand people sprain their ankles daily. Not to be confused with a strain, an injury involving a muscle or a tendon (located between the bones), an ankle sprain is an injury to the ligament—a tough band of tissue that holds the bone together. Ankle sprains usually happen when these ligaments are overstretched or torn.
There are three grades of sprained ankles:
- Grade 1: This is the mildest sprain and involves stretching of the ligaments.
- Grade 2: This is a moderate sprain and involves tearing off some of the fibers in the ligaments.
- Grade 3: This is the most severe sprain and involves tearing all of the ligaments' fibers.
Who does sprained ankle affect?
Anyone can get a sprained ankle, but certain people are more at risk than others. These include:
- Athletes participate in sports that involve a lot of running, jumping, or cutting, such as basketball, soccer, and football.
- People who have flat feet or high arches.
- People who have weak ankles or poor balance.
- People who are overweight or obese.
- People who wear shoes that are not supportive or fit properly.
- Older adults.
Sprained Ankle Causes
One's bone causes a sprained ankle to be pulled in the opposite direction than what it normally should be. This happens when there is a sudden and forceful movement of the joint that causes the ankle ligaments to stretch or tear. Several common things can cause this shift:
- Previous injury to the ankle can have long-lasting effects on the joint’s stability, depending on severity. Those who have previously sprained an ankle are more likely to injure their ankle again.
- Landing awkwardly on your foot after slipping, falling, or jumping is an easy way to injure your ankle.
- Walking, running, or stepping on an uneven surface can cause an ankle sprain.
- Sports place added demands on the ankle's range of motion, increasing the risk of a sprained ankle. This is especially true with high-impact sports involving quick direction or pivoting changes.
- When stepping up or down, unbalanced foot placement places tension on the ankle ligaments, making them more susceptible to strains.
Sprained Ankle Symptoms
An ankle injury may look like a disaster, but with the right care, it can be treated. Most ankle injuries are classified as either sprains or fractures. To know the difference and seek proper treatment immediately, it's imperative to recognize the symptoms of a sprained ankle--here they are:
Pain and Discomfort
Depending on the severity of your sprained ankle, your pain may vary. You will generally experience at least some discomfort or incredibly sharp pain in your foot or even ankle. Due to the injury, you can hear and feel a pop.
Sprained Ankle Bruising
Stiffness usually accompanies a sprained ankle, swelling, and bruising. If the ankle has a lot of bruising, it is probably a sign that the sprain is severe.
Sprained Ankle Swelling
Swelling and inflammation, known as edema, are two common side effects of a sprained ankle. The body releases chemicals to respond to the sprain by increasing blood flow. This is great for healing but can also cause the next-door tissues to swell up. In severe cases of ankle swelling, blood may not be able to pass around the injury freely enough for proper healing, resulting in other symptoms such as decreased sensation or pain.
Symptoms of a bone break
If you experience a lot of pain, cannot put weight through your ankle at all, and have sharp pain directly over the area where your ankle is located, it could be a sign that you have broken your ankle. In that case, you should take an X-ray to rule that out!
Types of Sprained Ankle Pain
Not all sprained ankles are created equal. This isn't an emergency, but your doctor should help you identify the type and grade of your problem ankle and coordinate the best treatment option for your unique situation.
Inversion vs. Eversion Ankle Sprain
Inversion Ankle Sprain
Foot sprains occasionally happen, as do ankle injuries like the inversion sprain. An inversion sprain occurs when the ankle rolls inward, and damage occurs to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle. Unlike stability sprains, which involve only one ligament stretching beyond its elasticity limit, an inverting sprain involves more than one ligament suffering a tear.
Eversion Ankle Sprain
Less frequently, the ankle rolls outward. If there is a sprain, it's usually on the inside of the foot or ankle and can cause serious injury to the ligaments and tendons supporting the arch of your foot.
Sprained Ankle Prevention
There are many precautionary steps you can take to prevent ankle sprains:
- Always use a microwavable heating pad to warm up properly before exercise or other strenuous activities.
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- Use a suitable ankle brace for high-risk activities, such as sports or hiking.
- Wear shoes that provide proper ankle support.
- Use exercise to establish good muscle strength, coordination, flexibility, and balance.
- Use care when walking or running on uneven surfaces.
By following these tips, you can help to keep your ankles healthy and prevent injuries.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind:
- The severity of a sprained ankle can range from mild to severe. Mild sprains can usually be treated at home with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). More severe sprains may require physical therapy or surgery.
- The recovery time for a sprained ankle can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Mild sprains may heal in a few weeks, while more severe sprains may take several months.
- If you have a sprained ankle, it is important to avoid putting weight on it until it is healed. This will help to prevent further injury.
- If you have a sprained ankle, you may also need crutches or a walking boot to help you get around.
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about a sprained ankle.
Sprained Ankle Recovery & Outlook
Much like any other body part, recovery time from a sprained ankle varies. On average, it takes approximately two weeks to heal, but it will depend on the severity of the sprain. For example, those suffering from a mild grade 1 sprain resume normal activities after their injury. In contrast, those with a more severe grade 2 sprain may take six to twelve weeks to heal completely.
Sprained Ankle Rehab & Physical Therapy
Regardless of the severity of an ankle sprain, it's vital during the recovery phase to follow three phases that help speed up rehabilitation and ensure complete healing to avoid further complications:
Following rest, Cold pack, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.), the protocol will be the best way to start managing your injury properly and make the right decisions in the initial stages after you've sustained an injury since these guidelines were created by medical specialists across America and endorsed by many athletes and sports organizations alike. Following this protocol will allow you to get over all injuries quicker than most and help avoid further strain or damage that might compound on top if left unattended.
Slowly build up your strength and fitness levels based on the type of physical activity you wish to participate in.
During the final stage of ankle rehabilitation, progress exercises and gradually return to normal activities. After fully completing this last phase in your recovery from ankle surgery, return to sports and other activities while keeping up with your regular exercise routine.