An ankle sprain is an injury that occurs on the ligaments that links the bones of the leg to the foot. The injury occurs when a person mistakenly twists or turns his or her ankle in an awkward way. This can cause a tear or stretch of the ligaments that keep the bones of the ankle and the joints in place.
Ligaments have a specific boundary and range of motion that keeps the joints stabilized. When the ligaments surrounding the ankles are stretched beyond this range, the result is an ankle sprain. Ankle sprain in most cases involves injuries to the ligaments on the exterior part of the ankle. If you have an ankle sprain, please do not hesitate to contact your physician. He or she will analyze the sprain and determine its level of severity before recommending the right treatment regimen. It may take some weeks or months for an ankle sprain to heal completely.
Causes of an ankle sprain
An ankle sprain occurs when the foot rolls or twists. This twist forces the joint of the ankle out of position. While performing exercises of physical activities, the ankle may twist inward due to an unexpected or sudden movement. This results in a stretch or tear of one or more ligaments around the ankle.
These tears may also cause a bruising or swelling. You will feel some discomfort and pain when you place some weight on the injured area. The ankle sprain may also cause damage to the blood vessels, cartilage and, tendons in the area. Anyone may suffer from ankle sprains. It is not age-specific. Walking on rough surfaces, engaging in physical activities and sports, or even putting on the wrong kind of footwear can cause an ankle sprain.
The symptoms of an ankle sprain
An ankle sprain is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Discoloration of the skin
- Inability to place weight on the sprained ankle
A sprained ankle may be susceptible to many kinds of injuries. It is best to consult your physician when you discover you’ve got issues with your ankle. Your physician will analyze the ankle sprain, and determine the extent of damage done, and the possible treatment.
Diagnosis of an ankle sprain
To diagnose an ankle sprain, your physician will first perform a physical examination to identify the damaged ligaments. The physical examination will involve the movement of the ankle joint in many directions to check your motion range. The physician may also call for imaging tests such as an X-ray. The aim of this is to rule out a bone fracture. If a fracture is suspected, your physician may call for an MRI. The same test is also done to confirm the possibility of damage to the surface of the ankle joint or an injury to the ligaments. The MRI creates a detailed view of the body through the use of radio waves and a strong magnetic field. With this, your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for an ankle sprain
Treatment will put you well on the path to recovery in no time, and prevent you from experiencing more discomfort. Try not to stress the injured area while recuperating from the ankle sprain.
Mild sprains can be treated at home. Recommended home remedies include:
- Wrapping the ankle with elastic bandages (like the ACE bandage). However, the ankle should not be wrapped too tightly.
- Putting on a brace to support the ankle
- Use crutches if necessary
- Raise your foot with pillows to minimize swelling
- Take medications such as Tylenol and ibuprofen to manage pain
- Allowing the ankle to rest by not stressing it.
It is also recommended that you apply some ice to the ankle sprain as soon as you can; this helps to minimize swelling. Apply ice every 20 to 30 minutes on the first day. This should be done at least 3-4 times. After that, you may apply the ice every three to four hours for the next couple of days.
Your physician may ask you not to use the sprained ankle pending when the pain subsides. This may take up to 10 days for mild sprains, while extreme cases may require weeks to heal.
It is uncommon to perform surgeries for an ankle sprain. A surgery may be performed when the injury to the ligament is severe, and it is evident that the joint is unstable. A surgery may also be done if nonsurgical treatment fails to improve the injury. Surgical options include:
- Reconstruction: Here, the surgeon will stitch the torn ligaments. He or she may also use other tendons or ligaments around the ankle or the foot to effect repairs on the damaged ligament.
- Arthroscopy: This involves examination of the joint to see if there are loose cartilage or bone fragments
Your surgery will depend on the severity of your condition. After surgery, you will be required to undergo rehabilitation as part of the process of recovery. You will have to book regular follow-up appointments with your physician, and also perform physical therapy exercises. The aim is to help you regain motion and give strength to the muscles that surround the ankle. Rehabilitation may take some months or maybe weeks – depending on the extent of severity.
Prognosis for an ankle sprain
In most cases, an ankle sprain does not call for much worry as it heals completely with the right treatment. The time required for a full recovery depends on the severity of the sprain. In most cases, sprains heal within weeks. However, if the case is serious, then it may take months. Even though you may be relieved of the pain and the swelling, the injured ankle will lose its stability. You are advised not to proceed with exercises until you are given the go-ahead by your physician.
Preventing an ankle sprain
You can prevent sprains, or minimize your risk of getting one by:
- Wearing a brace (if necessary)
- Engaging in strengthening exercises
- Avoiding shoes with high heels
- Wrapping the sprained ankle with an elastic bandage
- Wearing strong, quality footwear
- Not stressing yourself, especially when you are fatigued
If you have a second sprain, please call your doctor immediately. If the sprain is not treated on time, it can lead to prolonged pain and instability in the ankle.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.