John was playing basketball with his friends when he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his ankle. He knew right away that he had sprained it. He hobbled off the court and went to the doctor. The doctor confirmed that John had a sprained ankle and gave him some instructions on how to care for it. John followed the doctor’s instructions and his ankle healed within a few weeks. He was able to go back to playing basketball and he was even more careful not to twist his ankle again.
What Is an Ankle Sprain?
A sprained ankle is when one or more muscles on the outside of the ankle are hurt. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect two bones and hold the joints together. They are like rubber bands. Ligaments keep the ankle joint stable by reducing side-to-side movement.
Some sprained ankles hurt a lot more than others. The seriousness of an ankle sprain relies on how much the ligament has been stretched, how much it has been torn, and how many tendons are involved. Strains, which happen to muscles instead of ligaments, are not the same as sprains.
Most of the time, a sprained ankle is caused by a fall, a quick twist, or a blow that moves the ankle joint out of its usual place. Ankle sprains often happen when people play sports, wear the wrong shoes, or walk or run on a surface that isn’t even.
Some people are born with weak ankles, which can cause them to break their ankles. Ankle sprains or Ankle Fractures can also happen if the ankle or foot has been hurt before.
Some of the signs of sprained ankles are:
- Feeling pain or soreness
- Pain or swelling
- Bruising occurs
- Problems with walking
- stiffness in the joints
The severity of these symptoms will depend on how bad the sprain is. People who have sprained their ankles before don’t always feel pain or have swelling. Instead, they might just feel like their ankle is unstable when they walk. Even if there is no pain or stiffness, it is still important to treat a broken ankle. Whether it’s your first or fifth ankle sprain, you should see a doctor right away.
Why Prompt Medical Attention Is Needed
A foot and ankle surgeon should look at and treat an ankle sprain right away for four main reasons:
- If you don’t take care of a sprained ankle, it could lead to chronic ankle instability, which causes constant pain and a “giving way” of the ankle. There may also be weakness in the leg.
- Along with the sprain, the ankle may have been hurt more badly. This could include a major bone break that, if not addressed, could lead to more serious problems.
- A sprained ankle might come with a foot injury that hurts but hasn’t been noticed until now.
- A broken ankle needs to start getting better right away. If therapy is put off, the injury might not heal as well as it should.
The foot and ankle surgeon will ask you a lot of questions about your symptoms and look at your foot to figure out how bad your injury is. Doctors may order X-rays or other advanced imaging tests to help figure out how bad the injury is.
When you have a sprained ankle, therapy is very important, and it starts as soon as you start treatment. Your foot and ankle specialist might suggest one or more of the following treatments:
- Rest. Don’t walk on the hurt ankle. Walking could hurt you even more.
- Ice. Put a small towel between the ice pack and the skin where you hurt yourself. Use ice for 20 minutes, then wait at least 40 minutes before icing again.
- Compression. A stretchy band might be suggested to stop swelling.
- Elevation. To stop swelling, your ankle should be moved just above the level of your heart.
- Early physical therapy. As soon as possible, your doctor will put you on a therapy program to help you get better and improve your range of motion. This includes doing the workouts the doctor gives you.
- Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin can help lessen pain and swelling. In some cases, painkillers that need a prescription are the only way to get enough relief.
When Is Surgery Needed?
In the worst cases, an ankle sprain may need surgery to heal properly. During surgery, the torn ligament or tendons are often fixed. The foot and ankle surgeon will choose the best surgery for you based on the nature and seriousness of your injury and how active you are.
Rehabilitation is very important after surgery. It’s important to finish your rehab program if you want to get better. Make sure to keep seeing your foot and ankle surgeon during this time to make sure your ankle heals well and gets back to normal function.