Ankle Sprains: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Recovery
An ankle sprain is an injury caused to the ligaments that connect and surround the bones of the legs and the foot. Ankle sprain injuries are caused when there is an accidental twisting or turning of the ankle in an awkward way. This leads to the over stretching and tearing of the ligaments keeping together your joints and bones, and results in a sprain.
There is a specific range of motion for each ligament in the human body. This allows the ligaments to keep the joints in a stable position. If these ligaments surrounding your ankle are pushed beyond their limits, a sprain in one of these ligaments is caused which can be very painful. Most of the ankle sprains are caused due to injury to the ligaments present on the outside of the foot.
Ankle sprains are a common injury of the ankle and can be extremely painful and very complex. An ankle sprain may not look like a serious injury at first, but it is not the case most of the time. Even a small ankle sprain can lead to the tightness of the muscles in your calf, a decrease in the coordination, and can even lead to arthritis of the joints.
It is important to understand the causes, symptoms and treatment options for sprained ankles so you can take an informed decision in case you are faced with a sprained ankle. It is important to call the doctor right away if you think you have sprained your ankle. The severity of the sprain will be determined by the doctor and they will advise you about the proper course of treatment. A sprained ankle may take weeks to months to completely heal.
Causes of an Ankle Sprain
Ankle sprains are mostly caused if you make a rapid shift of the foot when it is planted, such as when playing soccer. This leads to the inward rolling of the foot and the outward rolling of the ankle. The ligaments located on the outside of the ankle get stretched and are torn, leading to an ankle sprain. Bruising and swelling may occur as a result of the tear accompanied with discomfort and pain when you put weight to the affected area. It can also lead to the damage of blood vessels, cartilage and tendons.
The ankle is composed of two main ligaments, the anterior talofibular ligament and the calcaneofibular ligaments. These ligaments keep the ankle bones in the right position and their main job is protecting the ankle joint from turning or twisting. It also keeps the foot safe from rolling. A tear or overstretching of one of these ligaments leads to a sprain. These ligaments are like a rubber band; just as a rubber band tears when it is stretched beyond their elastic limit, the ligaments in the ankle also sprain or strain.
Sprained ankles can happen anywhere, anytime and to anyone. It is mostly occurred when you are doing the following:
- Rolling or twisting the ankle when running or walking
- Stepping off a curb
- Tripping over something
- Landing your foot on an uneven angle when jumping
- Twisting or rolling to the side of a high heeled shoe
Signs and Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle
In most of the cases of an ankle sprain, you will feel pain right away at the point of the affected ligament. The ankle will begin to swell immediately after the sprain has occurred. It may also bruise. The ankle area will be tender to touch following the sprain, it will be difficult to move it and you will not be able to bear any weight on it.
In severe cases, you may feel or hear something breaking in your foot, along with a snap or pop. It is accompanied with extreme pain and will make you unable to walk. Here are the common signs and symptoms associated with a sprained ankle:
- Skin discoloration
- Inability to put any weight on the sprained ankle
Your ankle can sustain many kinds of injuries. Therefore, it is important to visit your doctor if you are facing any injury with your ankle or are faced with any of the symptoms mentioned above. The doctor will conduct some tests to diagnose if you have sprained your ankle.
Diagnosis of an Ankle Sprain
The doctor will perform a physical examination to determine which of the ligaments have been affected. Your ankle joint will be moved various ways by the doctor to check the range of motion you have post the ankle sprain.
To make sure there is no fracture in the bones of the foot, imaging tests such as X-Rays may also be conducted. If the doctor suspects there is some bone chipping involved as well, they will also conduct an MRI test.
Treatment Options for a Sprained Ankle
The treatment of an ankle sprain depends on its severity. It is important to visit a doctor as soon as possible to rule out the possibility of a fracture in the foot. There are non-surgical treatment options available for the treatment of a sprained ankle which work in most of the cases. However, in case of a severe case, the doctors may resort to a surgical treatment, which is a very rare.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Medications: To help you deal with the initial pain, swelling and discomfort, you can take pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medications. There are many over the counter medications available that can help in relieving pain and swelling. Pain relievers usually recommended by the doctor include the following
- Naproxen (Aleve)
- Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
- Generic Aspirin
- Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
- Topical Creams: Analgesics active ingredients are the main active ingredients of these creams. Immediate pain relief is provided by these creams in case of an ankle sprain.
RICE: Rest, ice, compression and elevation, commonly known as the RICE method is one of the best and most widely used treatment options available for a sprained ankle. You need to rest the injured foot, the duration of which depends on the severity of the sprain. It can range from a few weeks to several months. Icing is also an effective way to lessen the pain and swelling that comes with a sprained ankle. With a compression wrap wrapped around your injured foot, the swelling can be controlled. Keeping the injured ankle at an elevated level also helps in preventing any more swelling to the ankle.
While you are in the resting phase, there are many choices of mobility available to you that you can choose from to keep the injured foot non-weight bearing while also keeping it mobile.
Traditional Crutches: Crutches are an inexpensive and widely used method to keep your injured foot non-weight bearing. It, however, has many drawbacks. Most of the people using traditional crutches complain of pain in their arms, underarms, wrists and hands. It also limits the use of your hands which makes routine tasks impossible for you to do. There are also chances that you will put some weight on the injured foot which can increase the recovery time.
Knee Scooter or Knee Walkers: The best traditional crutches alternative is knee scooters or walkers from KneeRover. These are easy to use mobility devices that will keep weight off the injured foot while also keeping you mobile. You can rest the injured leg on the padded platform provided on the knee scooter and can move anywhere with the wheels provided at the bottom. They are also efficient for long distances and will not cause any more harm to the injured foot while you are in the recovery phase.
Surgical Treatment Options
While surgery is rare in case of a sprained ankle, it can be done when the non-surgical treatment options do not work. Here are the common surgical procedures done on a sprained ankle:
- Arthroscopy: The surgeon looks at the inside of the joints to see if there are any loose fragments of cartilage or bones
- Reconstruction: The torn ligament is repaired using stitches by the doctor. Other tendons and ligaments around the foot may also be used to heal the torn ligament
There is a risk of injuring the ankle again in case you have done it once. There are many ways that the sprained ankle injury can be prevented.
- Warm Up: It is important to lightly stretch your muscles when going for any physical activity. This will warmup your muscles and help avoid stretches and strains.
- Conditioning: It is important to increase the time of any physical activity gradually so your body and muscles can get conditioned to it.
- Choosing the Right Shoes: It is important to wear shoes that are in accordance with your specific foot needs. One shoe never fits all and you should choose one according to the shape and built of your feet.
Ankle sprains are a common injury of the feet. It is important to see your doctor if you think you have sprained your ankle so that treatment can start right away.
This is for informational purposes only, please remember to consult your doctor.
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