What is an ankle sprain?
The ankles are constructed with ligaments that are made to stretch. Their elasticity allows the bones and joints of the ankles to stay in place. They maintain a certain range, and then are able to snap back into place. When a sprain occurs, the ankle has been turned beyond the ligaments’ normal range of motion. Depending on the force that impacts the foot during the misstep, the ligaments may actually tear.
Ankle sprains are very common, and affect up to 25,000 people per day. No one is immune. Whether you’re a runner who steps on an uneven sidewalk, a working mom who misses a step on the way out of the door, or a child playing tag—these sprains can happen to anyone.
Are all ankle sprains the same?
No. In fact, there are different severities or grades of sprains which are determined by how much force is involved during the accident. Grade three is the worst, and it occurs when there is a total ligament tear. The affected person will experience a lot of swelling and pain. The stability of the ankle is compromised, and the ankle must be immobilized for treatment. Long-term physical therapy will be needed, and in some cases surgery is necessary.
A Grade 2 sprain is less severe, because the ligament does not completely tear. Instead, some fibers within it are severed. There is still pain, swelling, and impaired motion; however, all of these things are lesssened. The ankle will still need to be kept still with the use of a medical device such as an air cast. Physical therapy will help to increase range-of-motion and strength, but will be more short-term.
The most mild sprain classification is a Grade 1. With this type of sprain, a person can actually put weight on the injured ankle, and a cast or splint is not required. Mild swelling and pain are normal, but because the tears of the fibers are so tiny, strengthening exercises are not typically uncomfortable.
Should I go to the doctor if I sprain my ankle?
Yes, you should see your doctor right away. Even if the sprain is mild, your doctor needs to make sure that there is not a broken bone involved. Stress fractures can have some of the same symptoms as a sprain, and an x-ray or MRI will be necessary to determine the exact cause of your pain and swelling.
The typical treatment for less serious sprains will include R.I.C.E, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation). During your visit, your doctor will tell you what other treatments are necessary for you to regain strength in your ankle. If surgery is required, it will usually only be recommended if more conservative options have failed.
What will the recovery process look like?
Expect to go through three stages of recovery. You will need to first reduce swelling in the area by putting your foot up, resting it, and keeping it protected from any stress. By about week two or three, you will probably begin to notice increased strength and more range of motion. Finally, you will be able to return to some use as long as turning of the ankle is not necessary. Prescribed exercises often help.
Does foot or ankle pain have you off of your feet? Podiatrist Lawrence Kales and his friendly staff are here to help. Don’t let treatable foot conditions stop you from enjoying life! Call for an appointment, or schedule one using our online form.