Sprained Ankle: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments And Prevention
An Ankle Sprain refers to the injury of any of the ligaments that hold the bones of the feet and ankle together. This occurs when you accidentally twist your feet in an awkward manner. There is swelling and intense pain in the ankle. A sprain may take several weeks or months to heal.
What is Sprained Ankle?
The bones in feet and leg are connected by a tough band of tissues known as ligaments. These ligaments help in stabilizing the joints and prevents excess movement. In general, ligaments are the tissues that keep the bones of the joint together, thereby preventing overstretching of the joints.
Damage to the ligaments occurs when the ligaments move or twist beyond the normal range, thus causing a sprain. In most cases, a sprained ankle is reported on the outside of the ankle.
What Causes Sprained Ankle?
The twisting or bending of the ankle beyond the normal position causes the ligaments to stretch and tear. This ligament tear may either be a partial or a complete tear.
The ligament tear may occur due to:
- A fall that causes ankle twist
- Stepping on one’s feet during a sports activity
- Landing on your foot in an awkward manner
- Walking on a rough or an uneven surface
Sprained Ankle Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of sprained ankle depend on the severity of the condition. Some of the common signs and symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness upon touching the ankle
- Reduced ankle movement
Certain conditions that increase the risk of ankle sprain include:
- Sports: Participation in certain sports such as basketball, football, tennis or trial run require running, twisting. This may increase the risk of ankle sprain
- Uneven or rough spaces: Exercising or walking over uneven rough may increase the risk of ankle sprain
- Previous ankle injury: A previous ankle sprain or ankle injury may further increase the risk of ankle sprain.
- Physical condition: Weakness in your limbs due to poor strength and flexibility increase the risk of developing sprain.
- Improper shoes: Wearing improper shoes of different sizes or wearing high-heeled shoes makes the individual more prone to have a sprained ankle.
Failure to treat ankle sprain adequately or, performing activities immediately after a sprainmay lead to complications such as:
- Chronic ankle pain
- Ankle-joint instability
- Arthritis in the ankle joint
The doctor performs physical examination to evaluate which ligament is damaged or torn. Then, the ankle is moved in different directions to locate the possible site of pain. Further, imaging scans such as x-ray scan are performed to rule out bone fracture.
If there is a fracture, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the ankle is performed to get detailed images of the ankle joint. This helps to evaluate the extent of damage caused to the ankle and the surrounding tissues and bones.
Sprained Ankle Treatments
The treatment goals for sprained ankle include easing pain and discomfort, promoting recovery & cure, and restoring the function and movement of the joint. While mild ankle sprain injuries are treated at home, severe injuries require medical intervention and supervision under a musculoskeletal injury specialist such as an orthopaedic surgeon or physiotherapist.
The home therapy for mild ankle sprain include:
- Use of elastic bandages to wrap the ankle
- Use of ankle support brace band
- Use of crutches if required
- Elevating your foot during sleep to ease pain and inflammation
- Taking adequate rest and not applying pressure over the ankle
Also, on the first day, it is recommended to apply ice for every 20-30 minutes over the ankle to reduce swelling. Later applying ice for every 2-3 hours will reduce pain and swelling over the injury.
For mild injury, the recovery period may range between 7-10 days. During this period it is advised to avoid applying stress or load over the ankle. The recommended duration of rest maybe longer in case of severe ankle sprain and injury.
Although rarely done, surgery is the choice of treatment for a severe ankle sprain and ligament injury. It is also recommended when non-surgical methods do not improve the condition. The surgical methods followed to treat sprained ankle include:
- Arthroscopy: It is a minimally invasive procedure that uses an arthroscope to visualize, diagnose and treat the injured ankle. An arthroscope, which similar to an endoscope, is inserted by making an incision into the joint. Images of the joint are captured on the screen that helps in assisting the repair of the ligaments in the joints.
- Reconstruction: In this surgery, the surgeon repairs the damaged ligament by making an incision into the joint. Ligaments or tendons from other body part are collected and stitched over the joint for the reconstruction of the ankle.
The type of surgery performed depends on the severity of the condition and other underlying factors. Regular follow-ups and rehabilitation is an important aspect of proper recovery from the condition. This helps in regaining normal activity of the muscle and the ankle.
Post Surgical Management and Care:
Ankle sprain is usually less serious and can be effectively managed by proper treatment. The time required for complete treatment and cure depends on the severity of the condition. While mild ankle sprain may take days or weeks to recover, serious ankle sprain may take longer and usually range from weeks to months.
Performing ankle exercises regularly as recommended by the doctor, help in strengthening the muscles of the ankle and regain normal muscle activity. However, it is not advised to exercise until advised by your doctor to do so.
Here are certain tips for preventing ankle sprain or its recurrence
- Undergo a thorough warm-up session before any game
- Observe your steps while walking on an uneven surface
- Use support braces or bands on previously injured or week ankle
- Avoid regular use of high-heeled footwear
- Maintain proper muscle flexibility
- Practice stability training and other balance exercises
- Reduce pace or stop activities when you feel fatigue