What is an ankle sprain?
Many people will sprained their ankle at some point in their life. But if your ankle swells up and become painful after you twisted it, you are likely to sprain your ankle. This means that you may have stretched and possibly torn the ligaments in your ankle.
Even though ankle sprains are very common, they may not be always minor injuries. Some people may have sprain their ankle repeatedly and these sprains may develop long-term pain to the ankle and weakness to the ligaments. Treating a sprained ankle can help to prevent further ankle problems.
What causes ankle sprains?
Most types of ankle sprains happen when you suddenly change of movement with your foot planted, such as when you play soccer or you jump and landed awkwardly while playing basketball. Ankle sprains happens when your ankle rolls outward or your foot points inward (inversion sprain). This awkward movement causes the ligaments on outside of the ankle to stretch and tear.
There are times when the ankle rolls inward and the foot points outward (eversion sprain), this kind of ankle sprain will injured the ligaments on the inside of the ankle.
In a “high” ankle sprain, not so common type of ankle sprain, ligaments that join the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) together above the ankle, known as the syndesmosis, are injured. This happens if the foot is forced upward, or if the leg is twisted forcefully while the foot in planted. The ankle sprain can occur either by itself or with an inversion or eversion ankle sprain. If the ligaments of the syndesmosis are injured, the ankle sprain is much more serious and takes a longer time to heal.
What are the symptoms of ankle sprains?
Like most ankle sprains, you will feel pain immediately at the region of the tear of the ligament. Usually, the ankle will start to swell right away and bruising may occur. The ankle area is often tender to touch, and it hurts to move the ankle.
In severe ankle sprains, you may feel or hear a “pop” or “snap” that something tears. You will experience extreme pain initially and you will have difficulty to walk or even weight bear on your foot. Often, the more pain and swelling you have, the more serious your ankle sprain in and the time to take to heal is longer.
How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?.
Your orthopaedic surgeon will need to know how you injured your ankle and if there are previous injuries or sprains before. He or she will check your foot and ankle and to see see the exact place that you have injured.
For acute ankle sprain, your doctor may order X-rays to rule out broken bone (fracture) in the ankle or the foot. Breaking a bone in your foot and ankle is possible in an ankle sprain.
In many cases, doctors would prefer to order X-rays in children with an ankle sprain to rule out any damage to the growth plates in the bones that support the ankle.
How is ankle sprain treated?
In most cases, you can first use the RICE approach to treat your ankle sprain:
- Rest. You may need to use crutches.
- Ice. For the first 24 hours, you can ice the ankle for 10 to 20 minutes every hour. Keep a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. No direct contact with the ice and your skin to prevent burns.
- Compression. Wear a compression stocking to reduce swelling. You should wear it for the first 24 hours.
- Elevation. Raise your ankle above your heart level for 2 hours a day. This will help to reduce the swelling.
Proper treatment and rehabilitation exercises are very important for ankle sprains. If an ankle sprain does not treat right, the ankle joint may become loose and may develop chronic pain. This will result in your ankle weak and more prone to further sprains or injuries again.
If the damage to your ankle’s ligaments is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the torn ligaments.
What kind of rehabilitation program should you follow?
Rehabilitation exercises can begin soon after the ankle injury. You can try using the crutches if your ankle is painful to walk. Tracing the alphabets with your toe is a good form of rehabilitation exercise as this helps the ankle to move in different directions.
Your doctor may refer you to formal physiotherapist to help in stretching, strengthening, and balancing exercises that will help the ankle to heal totally and prevent further ankle injury.
Different grades for your ankle sprains
Injury to the ligament varies from overstretching to completely torn. Your doctor will grade your sprain according to the below grades.
- Grade I is overstretching with slight tear to the ligament. There is mild tenderness, swelling and pain. The ankle is stable and you usually be able to walk with minimum pain.
- Grade II is a large but partial tear to the ligament. There is moderate pain, swelling and bruising to the ankle. Walking is painful and the damaged areas are tender to touch.
- Grade III is a complete tear to the ligament. You will see severe swelling and bruising. The ankle is unstable and weak. You will not be able to walk as the pain is so intense that you are not able to put any weight to your foot.
When to call a doctor?
Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the following:
- Your foot is deformed – bending at an abnormal angle.
- You feel extreme pain.
- You can’t move your ankle.
- You feel numbness in your foot or toes.
- Your foot changes colour.
- You heard a “pop” sound at the time the ankle was sprained.
- You experience moderate pain, severe swelling or bruising around your ankle.
- You cannot weight bear on your foot and your ankle feels weak.
- You have redness, swelling or pain in your leg or groin.
- There is no improvement in your ankle after 1 week.
- Your swelling and bruising does not improve after 2 weeks.