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Ankle Sprain

What is an ankle sprain?

An injury to the ligaments at the ankle joint is an ankle sprain. These ligaments are the tough tissue bands that connect the bones of the leg with those of the foot. This happens due to an accidental twisting of the foot.

There is a certain limitation of movement for all ligaments. This helps the joints stay stabilized. On occasions when the ligaments around the ankle are stretched beyond their maximum limits, an ankle sprain occurs. A sprain in the ankles most frequently involves the ligaments on the outer edge of the ankle.

It is recommended that you contact your doctor immediately if you sprain your ankle. The healthcare professional will gauge the severity of the injury and recommend a proper course of treatment. It may take up to a few months to completely heal a sprained ankle.

A man holding his ankle sprain

How Does Ankle Sprain Occur?

Over-extension of the ligaments past their boundaries and range of motion leads them to stretch or tear, affecting their function of holding the ankle bones together. Thus, an ankle sprain can occur due to partial or complete tearing of the ligament.

The sources of an ankle sprain can include:

  • Awkward landing on foot due to jumping or pivoting
  • A fall that leads to twisting of your ankle
  • Exercising or walking on an uneven surface
  • Some other individual accidentally stepping on the fat during a sports activity

What Are the Symptoms Of An Ankle Sprain?

The signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle may differ according to the severity of the condition. They may include:

  • Pain in the affected foot
  • Tenderness upon touching the ankle
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Constrained range of motion
  • Ankle instability
  • Cracking sound or sensation when the injury occurs

How Is an Ankle Sprain Diagnosed?

To diagnose ankle sprain, your doctor will first do a physical examination of your foot, ankle, and lower leg. The specialist will check for areas of tenderness around the injury by touching the skin and check its range of motion by moving the foot to see positions that cause pain or discomfort.

In case of a severe injury, one or more of the following tests will be recommended by your doctor to rule out a bone fracture or to evaluate the degree of damage to the ligament.

X-ray – Uses a little amount of radiation that is passed through your body to generate images of the ankle bones. It will efficiently identify any broken bone.

Magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I.) – Radio waves are used with a strong magnetic field in order to generate 3-Dimensional images of all the internal structures of the ankle, along with ligaments.

C.T. scan – Several x-rays are taken, and different angles are combined to produce three-dimensional images to reveal the details about the joint bones.

Ultrasound – In an ultrasound, sound waves are used to take real-time images. This allows your physician to determine the ligament or tendon condition in different positions.

What Are the Treatment Options for Ankle Sprain?

The best treatment for your sprained ankle depends upon its severity. The aims of the treatment are:

  • Reduction in pain and swelling
  • Enhancement of healing of the ligament
  • Restoration of ankle function
  • Severe injuries may need examination from a musculoskeletal injury’s specialist like the orthopedic surgeon or rehabilitation specialist.

Self-Care

R.I.C.E approach should be used the first couple of days. This includes:

  • R – Rest. To avoid events that may cause swelling, pain, or discomfort.
  • I – Ice. Use an ice slush bath or pack instantly for 15-20 minutes and repeat it every 2-3 hours. In case you have diabetes, vascular disease, or reduced sensation, consult your doctor before applying ice.
  • C – Compression. For helping stop swelling:
  • Apply an elastic compression bandage on the ankle until the swelling halts.
  • Remember not to hamper circulation by wrapping too tightly.
  • Start to wrap from the farthest end of the heart.
  • E – Elevation. By elevating your ankle above heart level, swelling can be significantly minimized, especially during the night. Excess fluid will be drained with the help of gravity to reduce swelling.

Medications

Most commonly, pain can be relieved by over-the-counter painkillers, including ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen, which will be generally enough for the management of pain.

Devices

Movement or walking with an ankle sprain is challenging and painful. You may need help from certain devices until your injury heals. Your doctor will recommend them as per your need. These include:

  • Crutches
  • Elastic bandage
  • Sports tape
  • Ankle support brace
  • A cast or walking boot

Therapy

After the pain and swelling subside, your doctor will ask you to slowly resume movement and start a series of exercises to restore the range of motion for your ankle, its flexibility, strength, and stability. Your physician will help you understand the correct method and advancement of exercises.

To restore the function of the ankle muscles and to avoid recurring sprains, it is essential that you have stability and balance training. These involve certain levels of balancing challenge exercises, for example, standing on one leg.

In case of experiencing an ankle sprain during exercise or playing a sport, consult your doctor about the appropriate time to resume your activity. Your physical therapist might suggest you carry out specific movement tests to determine the status of your ankle muscle function for the sports you play.

Surgery

In severe cases, surgery can be indicated if the injury doesn’t recover or the ankle stays unstable after consistent physical therapy and rehabilitative exercise.

  • The objective of surgery can be as follows.
  • Restoration of a ligament that does not heal
  • Reconstruction of a ligament with the help of a proximate ligament or tendon

How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Take to Heal?

Minor or low-grade sprained ankles will generally heal in 1-3 weeks with adequate rest and non-surgical care. For moderate injury, you may take 1 to 4 weeks for healing. The blood flow to ankle ligaments is limited. This is why severe injuries can take 3 to 6 months to heal, especially if it is accompanied with a fracture.

A foot and ankle in a cast

Take Away

An ankle sprain is an untoward situation that can occur to any person. However, treatment should be immediately sought for complete healing to occur in a short period of time. Following your physical therapist can help you recover and restore your ankle muscle function.

References:

  1. Morrison W. ankle sprain. Healthline. Mar, 2019.https://www.healthline.com/health/ankle-sprain
  2. Mayoclinic staff. Sprained ankle. Mayoclinic. April 2021.https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sprained-ankle/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353231
  3. Ortho E. How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Take to Heal and Other Questions. Emerge Ortho. Aug, 2019.https://emergeortho.com/news/how-long-does-a-sprained-ankle-take-to-heal/

 

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