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Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments—important structures connecting the bones and helping provide stability to the ankle—in or around the ankle become injured. The ligaments may become stretched, or may be partially or completely torn. Severity often depends on the type of damage—stretched or torn—as well as the number of ligaments that were damaged.

Causes of an Ankle Sprain

Most ankle sprains are the result twisting the ankle or falling. Some falls or other trauma to the ankle may dislocate the ankle from its natural position, which can also cause a sprain. Most who sprain their ankle do so while participating in sports or exercising. Uneven surfaces, such as those containing potholes, cracks in the sidewalk, or unexpected dips or loose dirt, are another big contributor to sprained ankles. Wearing improper shoes—such as those that do not provide proper support when exercising—may contribute to ankle sprains, too. Weak ankles—either congenital or resulting from previous injury—may put one at higher risk of ankle sprains.

Symptoms of Ankle Sprains

Symptoms of ankle sprains may be mild or intense depending on the damage to the ligaments and the number of ligaments involved. Common symptoms include pain, discomfort, swelling, stiffness, or difficulty walking or running. Repeat sprains may not be as painful as first-time sprains, but other symptoms may be present.

What to Do if You Sprain an Ankle

If you sprain your ankle, rest it as much as possible by staying off of it. Get somebody else to drive you home or to a doctor because your ability to press the gas and brake pedals may be limited. Wrap the ankle with a bandage to reduce pain and swelling, and ice the area in 15-minute intervals every hour. Try to keep the ankle elevated just above the heart to allow draining of blood back to the heart.

You should always see a doctor when you sprain your ankle. Untreated sprains may result in weak ligaments, which can lead to further sprains or ankle instability. Weakness in the foot or leg may be present as well. What’s more, some sprains are accompanied by other injuries such as fractures that require treatment.

Diagnosis of Ankle Sprains

Most physicians will first ask how the injury occurred. They might ask if you’ve sprained the ankle in the past or if you’ve otherwise injured the foot or ankle in the past. A thorough physical examination of the ankle will allow the physician to defect areas of swelling and tenderness. X-rays and other imaging techniques may be ordered to confirm diagnosis or to determine the severity of the sprain.

Treatment for Ankle Sprains

Rehabilitating a sprained ankle is important to ensure that it heals properly and strength and stability is restored to the area. Some may be recommended to immobilize the ankle by wearing a cast, walking boot, or a brace; some may also be encouraged to use crutches while recovering.

Physical therapy is often ordered to strengthen the affected ligaments and other structures in the ankle and foot, and to improve range of motion. Certain medications may be used such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to reduce pain and inflammation in the area. What’s more, icing and wrapping the ankle may be encouraged to relieve symptoms as well.

Severe ankle sprains may even require surgery to ensure proper healing of the affected ligaments or other structures that may have been injured. Most procedures require repair to the affected ligaments followed by some or all of the above non-surgical treatments. Rehabilitation is often the key to avoiding continued ligament damage or recurring ankle sprains or instability.