Our Experts Explain What Happens (and What to Do) When You Sprain An Ankle

Ankle Sprains

If your lifestyle is even a little bit active, it’s almost certainly going to happen. You will sprain your ankle. You’ll do it in a physically demanding sport, like soccer or baseball, which requires abrupt applications of powerful force through your lower legs and feet.

Or you will do it during a casual stroll over an uneven surface. Or you’ll do it at a party, having fun on the dance floor. Unless you virtually float through life on an ethereal cloud, you will, at some time or another, sprain your ankle.

The next time you sprain your ankle, remember that an ankle sprain is not something to be ignored. It’s not simply a local and transitory injury. Unless properly managed, an ankle sprain can result in a continuum of disability with lifelong consequences, including frequent injury recurrence and a dramatically decreased quality of life.

Ankle anatomy functions like a three-dimensional hinge

It enables twisting and flexion in multiple directions, sometimes simultaneously. The ankle needs to be both strong and stable because it bears 150% of your body weight when you walk. That load goes up to 800% of your body weight when you run. And the ankle must be able to instantly adapt the position of your foot to whatever terrain you may be traversing.

What is an ankle sprain?

A typical sprain occurs when you make a rapid change of direction while your foot is firmly planted. Your body’s kinetic momentum causes the outer edge of your foot to roll down and under, and the inner edge of the foot lifts up. This process can impose insupportable stress through the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.

The resulting injury, whether it is a stretch or a tear, is called a low ankle sprain. High ankle sprains, which are less common but often more serious, involve the ligaments between your ankle and your leg bones.

All ankle sprains are not created equal

For ease of reference and consistency in treatment, ankle sprains are separated into three gradations of severity.

  • Grade 1 ankle sprain means abnormal stretching of the ligaments
  • Grade 2 ankle sprain involves a partial tear of the ligaments
  • A grade 3 ankle sprain involves complete rupture of a ligament

How to know if your ankle is sprained?

  • Immediate ankle pain, sometimes accompanied by a “popping” sensation and/or sound.
  • Swelling and bruising. The ankle will be tender to the touch.
  • A restricted range of motion may make it difficult to put any weight on the affected foot, so the use of crutches may be necessary.

When to see your doctor for sprained ankle help

Some mild sprains will heal with home treatment. Podiatric evaluation and treatment are appropriate for more severe ankle sprains that are grade 1. Such intervention is a necessity for all grade 2 ankle sprains and grade 3 ankle sprains.

How to treat a sprained ankle at home

Ankle Sprain Grades

Treatment for ankle sprains begins with the RICE acronym: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Rest. Eliminate weight-bearing as much as possible. This may require the use of a brace, crutches, or a walker.

Ice. Apply an ice pack for 10 to 20 minutes every hour or so throughout the day until the swelling goes down. Keep a cloth between the ice in your skin and press the ice pack so it contacts all the affected area.

Compression. Use a compression wrap, like an Ace bandage, until the swelling is gone.

Elevation. Keep your ankle raised above the level of your heart for as long as possible throughout the day. This will help reduce both bruising and swelling.

Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen, can help reduce the pain of an ankle sprain.

Sprained ankle treatment from your podiatrist

If the pain persists beyond a few days, or if your ankle displays any instability, it’s time for professional help.

Your podiatrist will probably prescribe temporary immobilization of the ankle, using a cast/boot or a rigid ankle brace to prevent further injury. Crutches or a walker can also minimize weight-bearing.

A program of physical therapy may also be prescribed to prevent future injury, pain, and instability. A typical program of sprained ankle exercises will include:

  • Range of motion exercises and ankle stretches
  • Exercises to keep your Achilles tendon elastic while your ankle heals
  • Exercises to keep the muscles supporting your ankle strong
  • Balance and control exercises to restore your agility

Even severe ankle sprains will usually respond to an appropriate nonsurgical treatment regimen, and surgery is rarely required.

Surgery can be necessary in more severe cases and when there’re other injuries associated with the sprain, such as a tendon tear or damage to cartilage. Surgery generally involves tightening the ankle ligaments to restore stability. In cases of severe tears, surgical grafts are sometimes required.

Why UFAI is the best choice for your foot and ankle care

If you’re experiencing ankle pain and foot problems, we’re here to help. Our nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists offer the most advanced podiatric care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are leaders in the research and treatment of all foot and ankle conditions.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (877) 736-6001 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com.

Dr. Ryan Carter, DPM

Dr. Ryan Carter, DPM

Dr. Ryan Carter was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He received his bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he played on the men’s lacrosse team and was captain during his senior year.

After receiving his medical degree at Midwestern University Arizona School of Podiatric Medicine, Dr. Carter then completed a three-year surgical residency at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, California. During his residency, he received comprehensive training in all aspects of the foot and ankle. During his final year of residency he served as chief resident.

In his free time, Dr. Carter enjoys running and spending time with his 10 year old corgi Kobe.
Dr. Ryan Carter, DPM

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