Ankle sprains are very common injuries. There’s a good chance that while playing as a child or stepping on an uneven surface as an adult you sprained your ankle–some 25,000 people do it every day.
Sometimes, it is an awkward moment when you lose your balance, but the pain quickly fades away and you go on your way. But the sprain could be more severe; your ankle might swell and it might hurt too much to stand on it. If it’s a severe sprain, you might have felt a “pop” when the injury happened.
Even though ankle sprains are common, they are not always minor injuries. Some people with repeated or severe sprains can develop long-term joint pain and weakness. Treating a sprained ankle can help prevent ongoing ankle problems.
A sprained ankle means one or more ligaments on the outer side of your ankle were stretched or torn. If a sprain is not treated properly, you could have long-term problems. Typically the ankle is rolled either inward (inversion sprain) or outward (eversion sprain). Inversion sprains cause pain along the outer side of the ankle and are the most common type. Pain along the inner side of the ankle may represent a more serious injury to the tendons or to the ligaments that support the arch and should always be evaluated by a doctor.
With a mild sprain, the ankle may be tender, swollen, and stiff. But it usually feels stable, and you can walk with little pain. A more serious sprain might include bruising and tenderness around the ankle, and walking is painful. In a severe ankle sprain, the ankle is unstable and may feel “wobbly.”
More about Your Injury
There are 3 grades of ankle sprains:
The last 2 kinds of sprains are often associated with tearing of small blood vessels. This allows blood to leak into tissues and cause black and blue color in the area. The blood may not appear for several days. Most of the time it is absorbed from the tissues within 2 weeks.
If your sprain is more severe:
Some ankle sprains may become chronic (long-lasting). If this happens to you, your ankle may continue to be:
What to Expect
Your health care provider may order an x-ray to look for a bone fracture, or an MRI scan to look for an injury to the ligament.
To help your ankle heal, your provider may treat you with a brace, a cast, or a splint, and may give you crutches to walk on. You may be asked to place only part or none of your weight on the bad ankle. You will also need to do physical therapy or exercises to help you recover from the injury.
You can decrease swelling by:
Ice it to keep down the swelling. Don’t put ice directly on the skin (use a thin piece of cloth such as a pillow case between the ice bag and the skin) Apply ice every hour while you are awake, 20 minutes at a time and covered by a towel or bag, for the first 24 hours after the injury. After the first 24 hours, apply ice 20 minutes 3 to 4 times per day.
The pain and swelling of an ankle sprain most often gets better within 48 hours. After that, you can begin to put weight back on your injured foot.
Every ligament injury needs rehabilitation. Otherwise, your sprained ankle might not heal completely and you might re-injure it. All ankle sprains, from mild to severe, require three phases of recovery:
Once you can stand on your ankle again, your doctor will prescribe exercise routines to strengthen your muscles and ligaments and increase your flexibility, balance and coordination. Later, you may walk, jog and run figure eights with your ankle taped or in a supportive ankle brace.
It’s important to complete the rehabilitation program because it makes it less likely that you’ll hurt the same ankle again. If you don’t complete rehabilitation, you could suffer chronic pain, instability and arthritis in your ankle. If your ankle still hurts, it could mean that the sprained ligament has not healed right, or that some other injury also happened.
To prevent future sprained ankles, pay attention to your body’s warning signs to slow down when you feel pain or fatigue, and stay in shape with good muscle balance, flexibility and strength in your soft tissues.
Talk to your provider before returning to more intense sports or work activities.
When to Call the Doctor
You should call your provider if you notice any of the following:
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