A sprained ankle is when the ligaments in the ankle become over-stretched or torn. It is a common injury and often occurs when you roll or twist the ankle awkwardly. Treatment for an ankle sprain depends on the severity of the injury. A medical evaluation may be necessary to assess the injury and determine the best course of treatment to help ensure a successful recovery.
What Is an Ankle Sprain?
The ankle joint connects the leg with the foot and is made up of bones, ligaments, and other soft tissues. Ligaments are tough rope-like bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones together and support and stabilize the ankle joint. If a ligament is forced beyond its normal range of motion, it can result in a sprain. A sprain often happens during a sudden fall, impact, or twist, or from landing awkwardly after jumping.
Symptoms of a Sprain
Symptoms of a sprain can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. In most cases, it is the outside of the ankle that is affected. Signs and symptoms of a sprained anklecan include:
- Pain, particularly when weight-bearing or using the affected ankle
- Tenderness when touched
- Swelling and/or bruising
- Restricted range of motion
- Ankle instability
- Sometimes a popping sensation may be experienced at the time of injury
When To Seek Medical Care
Although mild sprains may only require self-care, medical treatment may be necessary for a bad sprain. A severe sprain can share similar symptoms to other injuries, such as fractures, and therefore a medical evaluation is typically recommended to assess the injury and determine the most appropriate treatment.
A medical evaluation will involve a physical examination, a review of symptoms, and medical history, and may include diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI, to help make a diagnosis and rule out certain conditions.
Treating an Ankle Sprain
Treatment will depend on the severity of the ankle sprain. Ankle sprains are classified into three categories, with grade 1 sprains being the least severe and grade 3 sprains being the most severe – usually indicating a complete tear of the ligament. A grade 3 sprain can significantly compromise ankle stability and the ability to bearweight.
The aim of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling, restore the function of the ankle, and promote healing of the ligament.
Mild sprains can often be treated at home with self-care methods, such as R.I.C.E., which is:
- Rest – avoid activities that cause discomfort, pain, or swelling
- Ice–Apply an ice pack to the ankle to reduce pain and swelling. Ice should be applied immediately after a sprain for 15-20 mins and repeated every few hours during the day.
- Compression – use an elastic bandage to immobilize and support the ankle until the swelling has stopped. The bandage should be snug, nottoo tight.
- Elevation– keepthe ankle above heart level for 48 hours to help reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter pain medication can also help alleviate pain and swelling.
If self-care doesn’t alleviate your symptoms, you should make an appointment with a podiatrist for further evaluation and treatment.
- Conservative Treatments
A podiatrist may recommend immobilizing the ankle with a bandage, taping, splint, walking boot, or short leg cast to keep the bones of the ankle in the proper position and to stabilize and support the ankle while it heals.
Severe sprains may require rehabilitation. Physical therapy can help reduce pain and swelling and restore the ankle’s stability, range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Activity level can be gradually increased as the ankle heals.
Customized shoe inserts, called orthotics, or specialized shoes may be recommended to help maintain proper ankle positioning and prevent future ankle injuries.
- Surgical Repair
A majority of ankle sprains do not require surgery, and surgical treatments are usually only considered when all conservative approaches have been fully explored. If a ligament is severely damaged, or if conservative treatments and rehabilitation are unsuccessful, surgery may be used to:
- Repair or tighten an overstretched or damaged ligament
- Reconstruct a ligament using nearby tissue
- Remove bone fragments, scar tissue, and damaged cartilage that may be preventing healing
Recovering from an Ankle Sprain
Mild sprains usually take approximately 6 weeks to fully heal, but recovery time can be much longer for severe sprains, particularly if surgical repair is required. Returning to activity too soon after a sprain or not treating a sprain properly can lead to complications, such as chronic ankle pain and instability.
Ankle Specialist in San Antonio, TX
If you have an ankle injury, seek high-quality medical care from the foot and ankle specialists at The Podiatry Group of South Texas. We provide diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for all types of injuries and conditions affecting the feet and ankles.No matter your health concern, our expert providers will take the time to explain all your treatment options to ensure you make the best recovery possible.