Treating ankle sprains to prevent ankle instability

A sprained ankle may seem trivial but it is the most common ankle injury in the majority of sporting and other activities with around 25,000 Americans having this mishap occur every day according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  Anyone who has experienced this unfortunate event may have extended prolonged or chronic ankle instability leading to feelings of the ankle “giving way” during normal activities of daily living.

Causes of an ankle sprain

Ankles are a complex structure of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles supporting your entire body weight.  Whenever we walk, run, jump or twist our body suddenly, this force places an impact equal to three to four times your body weight.  If you’re not careful or your ankles are already unstable, this sets you up for a sprain to occur. 

An ankle sprain often occurs when the foot suddenly twists or rolls, forcing the ankle joint out of its normal position.  It may happen while running or walking on uneven ground or if you land awkwardly while playing a sport.  Wearing high heels is another culprit of spraining an ankle. 

There are several ligaments that support the ankle.  The outer ligaments known as the lateral ligaments, have three components which stop the ankle from rolling and sliding forward.  These ligaments are attached to the fibula (small bone next to the shin bone) and the talus (the ankle bone) and calcaneus (heel bone).

An ankle sprain stretches and tears these ligaments and if the sprain doesn’t heal properly, chronic ankle instability can develop.

Assessing damage from an ankle sprain

In most cases, ankle sprains can be self-treated if minor but determining the severity of the sprain should be left to a physician.  Even minor ankle sprains should be properly treated as they can take a long time to heal and improper treatment can lead to long-term problems – chronic ankle instability, leg muscle weakness, balance problems and risk of re-injury.  It is always best to have any ankle injury medically evaluated as soon as possible.

Symptoms of ankle sprain

Whenever you twist or roll your ankle and suspect it maybe sprained, here is what to look for:

·         Swelling

·         Tenderness

·         Bruising

·         Pain

·         Inability to put weight on the affected ankle

·         Skin discoloration

·         Stiffness

Diagnosing an ankle sprain

For a proper diagnosis, go to a physician to have it evaluated.  They will perform a physical exam to determine which ligaments have been torn by moving the ankle joint in various ways checking on your range of motion.

An x-ray may be ordered to rule out a bone fracture and an MRI may be done of there is suspicion of bone chipping, a serious injury to the ligaments or damage to the surface of the ankle joint. 

Self-care for a sprained ankle

After having an ankle sprain medically checked-out and it is determined to be a minor sprain, here are self-care methods for treating it:

Use the acronym RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

REST – For the first 24-48 hours after the injury keep weight off of it – use crutches and avoid any activity causing pain.  However, get moving as soon as possible once the pain and swelling have decreased.

ICE – Place ice on the ankle as soon as possible to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation.  Apply ice for 20 minutes every 2 hours until swelling subsides usually within 24 to 48 hours.  Continue icing if the ankle remains swollen.

COMPRESSION – Keep the ankle wrapped in an elastic bandage at all times except when showering.  Start from the toes and wrap up toward the lower leg and do not wrap too tightly. 

ELEVATE – Frequently elevate the ankle throughout the first 24 to 48 hours.