Ankle sprains are common injuries among people of all ages. They occur when one or more ligaments in the ankle are overstretched or torn. Such an injury can be caused by simply walking over an uneven surface. A mild sprain usually heals quickly and gets better without medical intervention, but a more serious sprain can take significantly longer to recover and often requires treatment in order to heal effectively and to prevent permanent ankle instability.
The Ankle Joint
The anatomy of the ankle joint is very complex as it allows the foot to move both up and down and side to side. It is made up of three bones: the tibia (shin bone), the fibula (the thinner bone next to the shin bone), and the talus (a foot bone that sits above the heel bone), as well as ligaments, muscle, cartilage, and tendons. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones together to give the ankle its stability. Because the ankle allows us to perform a variety of movements and supports our body weight, it can be vulnerable to injury and instability.
A sprain happens when you over-stretch or tear the ligament in your ankle. The most common causes of ankle sprains are falling, twisting the joint, or trauma. The resulting damage can cause symptoms including swelling, pain, bruising, and difficulty walking. Many patients also report feeling a popping sensation at the time of injury.
The most common type of sprain is called an inversion injury, or lateral ankle sprain, in which the foot rolls inwards, damaging the ligaments of the outer ankle. Sprains affecting the inner ankle are less common and occur most often in contact sports. Syndesmotic sprains, which injure the tibiofibular ligaments (that join the tibia and fibula), can cause chronic ankle instability and subsequent sprains.
Ankle sprains are categorized by the level of injury to the ligaments they cause and how unstable the joint becomes as a result. The more severe a sprain is, the longer recovery may be.
- A grade one sprain means minimal stretching and no tearing. It can cause mild pain, swelling, and tenderness, but there is no joint instability, usually no bruising, and no difficulty bearing weight. Full recovery usually takes 1-3 weeks.
- A grade two sprain is when there is a partial tear of the ligament. The ankle joint may seem lax or looser than normal, and there will be some loss of function and range of motion. Weight bearing and walking may also be painful. Full recovery can take about 3-6 weeks.
- A grade three sprain describes a complete tear or rupture of the ligament. It causes severe pain, swelling, tenderness, and bruising, with significant loss of function and range of motion. The ankle joint will be considerably unstable, meaning walking and any weight-bearing will be almost impossible. It can take several months to recover from a grade 3 sprain, and in some cases, it may require surgery.
Diagnosis and Treatment
An ankle sprain requires prompt treatment to reduce pain and swelling and to protect the ligament from further injury. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) can be an effective way to treat a sprain, but if an ankle sprain causes more than slight pain and swelling, you should seek medical attention to determine the best course of treatment.
Over-the-counter or prescription medication can help relieve pain and inflammation, and compression bandages, such as elastic wraps, can help immobilize and support the ankle.
Your doctor may prescribe an ankle air cast or soft splint for a grade two sprain and a short leg cast or a cast-brace system for a grade three sprain to help with positioning and stability. Rehabilitation and a period of physical therapy is often recommended to reduce pain and swelling, promote healing, and increase movement, coordination, and strength. Activity levels can be gradually increased as the sprain heals. Customized inserts called orthotics for your shoe or special shoes to help you maintain proper ankle positioning may also be recommended.
The majority of ankle sprains heal with non-surgical treatment methods. However, surgery, such as ligament tightening surgery or a tendon graft, may be necessary if non-surgical treatments and rehabilitation fail to work. Arthroscopic surgery may also be performed to remove bone fragments, scar tissue, and damaged cartilage.
Without proper treatment, a severe sprain may not heal well, resulting in recurring sprains and further problems down the line.
Podiatrist For Ankle Pain in Naples, Florida
If you have ankle pain, talk to the Joint Replacement Institute in Naples, Florida. We have a dedicated team of providers, including our specially trained and experienced podiatrist who can help get you back to the activities you enjoy in no time.
If you would like to find out more about the services we provide, call us at (239) 261-2663, or you can request an appointment now using our convenient online form. Our friendly staff looks forward to your call.