In order to best understand how to prevent and treat an ankle sprain, first, we must understand what it is. Simply put, an ankle sprain is when the ligaments (bands of tissue) that surround and connect the legs bones to the bones in your foot get injured.
Typically, this kind of injury occurs when you accidentally twist your ankle uncomfortably and awkwardly, causing the ligaments to stretch or even tear.
Ligaments only have a specific range of motions which allows them to keep the joints stable, and when they are pushed past these boundaries, it causes a sprain. More often than not, sprained ankles affect ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
If you suspect you have a sprained ankle, then you need to contact your doctor immediately. As sprained ankles can take weeks and sometimes even months to recover from, it is important to follow the proper course of treatment.
Your doctor should be able to determine how serious the sprain is and is best placed to recommend the proper course of treatment.
Causes of Sprained Ankle
A sprained ankle occurs when one’s ankle is forced to change its normal position, which results in tearing or stretching of the ligaments of the ankle
Ankle sprains are incredibly common, and the chances are that you have experienced one at some level already.
They occur when ligaments are stretched, torn or partially torn as a result of your ankle moving out of its normal position.
The most common causes of ankle sprains are:
• You fall and cause your ankle to twist
• Landing awkwardly on your foot after jumping
• Walking/Exercising on an uneven surface
Sprained Ankle Symptoms
The severity of a sprained ankle can vary massively and can cause issues with standing or walking on your foot. When the injury first occurs you might hear a cracking or popping sound which, combined with swelling, bruising and ankle pain are indicative of a sprained ankle.
If you get a mixture or all of these symptoms then you need to visit your doctor immediately.
Having trouble with walking or standing on the injured ankle is common and it may be necessary to use crutches, ankle supports, strapping or even a walking boot in order to move around. More severe cases can include injuries to deeper ligaments that can be more difficult to deal with and treat.
How is a Sprained Ankle Diagnosed?
Whenever you have a sprained ankle, you need to consult an orthopaedic specialist who will conduct a physical examination and determine which ligaments have been affected. You might have to undergo an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a bone fracture. If you have been through a severe injury resulting in chipping of bones, ligament injury and/or serious damage to the joint surface, then a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, might be necessary. In case your ligaments are completely severed, then the joint surface might also be injured. In that case, the ankle might be unstable - even after the injury heals.
Sprained Ankle Treatment
When you have sprained your ankle, proper treatment is necessary to reduce the risk of further injury. Doing too much, too soon can extend recovery times and increase the pain involved. Although minor sprains can often be treated through self-care techniques, it is still best to see a professional who will determine the severity of the injury.
The less serious injuries can usually be managed through protection, ice, rest, compression and elevation. As well as this it is best to get the injured joint moving as quickly as possible, providing it is not too painful to do so. This doesn’t mean over exerting it, or putting too much pressure on it but moving it in circles will help to test how far it has recovered. Stop if it becomes painful.
Painkillers such as paracetamol can help to ease mild pain, however, stronger medication can be prescribed for more serious injuries.
Talk to your doctor before taking anything stronger than paracetamol as you don’t want to numb the pain so much that you can’t feel if you’re doing further damage.
On average, it takes around 6-8 weeks to recover from a sprained ankle although more serious injuries can take longer. Although 6-8 weeks is the average, it is not uncommon for those suffering severe injuries to experience problems lasting for months or longer.
Complications of Ankle Sprains
If a sprained ankle is left untreated, or not treated properly then complications can occur. Recovering from a sprained ankle can be a slow and frustrating process, and engaging activities too soon is tempting, although it can lead to the following complications:
• Chronic Pain
• Chronic ankle joint instability
• Early-onset arthritis in that joint
The best thing you can do is ensure that you follow the guidelines properly as rushing your recovery can cause more problems than it’s worth!