You rolled your ankle. Now what?
Most people have twisted, rolled or sprained their ankle at some point in their life. Ankle injuries occur when you strain or tear the ligaments on the outside of your ankle. In fact, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association estimates that around 28,000 Americans do so every day.
Why are ankle injuries so common? Because they can happen in a variety of situations, from playing sports to simply walking down the street. While ankle injuries may occur frequently, they’re not always minor. If you suffer repeated or severe ankle sprains and don’t seek proper treatment, you can develop long-term joint pain and weakness, prolonged discomfort, chronic disability and early arthritis. You also increase your risk of re-injuring your ankle. That’s why it’s important to know what causes ankle sprains, how to avoid them and how to treat them properly.
How do ankle injuries occur?
Ankle injuries account for nearly half of all athletic injuries, most often affecting field hockey, lacrosse, ice hockey, volleyball, football, basketball, softball, baseball, soccer and rugby players. (Cheerleaders, those who compete in track and field events and gymnasts also often suffer ankle injuries.) Athletes tend to sustain ankle injuries when they land awkwardly from jumps, step on another athlete’s foot or strike their heel against the ground with too much force while running.
When you sprain your ankle, you typically do it in one of two ways — you roll it inward (inversion sprain) or outward (eversion sprain). Inversion sprains cause pain on the outer side of the ankle and are the most common type of sprain. If you’re experiencing pain on the inside of your ankle, you might have a more serious tendon or ligament injury and should pay a visit to the doctor.
In most instances, an ankle injury occurs when you place your toes on the ground and raise your heel. This posture exposes the ligaments in your ankle and exerts pressure on them. If your ankle experiences a sudden impact while in this fixed position, such as from landing on an uneven surface, your ligaments can sustain damage.
How can you tell how badly you’ve injured your ankle?
Ankle sprains range from mild to severe, depending on how many ligaments you injure and how seriously you injure them. If your ankle is tender, swollen and stiff but you can walk on it while experiencing only minor discomfort, the sprain is likely mild. If your ankle is bruised and tender and it hurts to walk, yours may be a serious sprain. If your ankle is unstable, painful and you can’t walk on it because it gives out, you’ve almost certainly suffered a severe sprain.
With most ankle sprains, you’ll probably feel the pain immediately. Your ankle will also begin swelling and/or showing signs of bruising soon after. If you’ve sustained a severe sprain, you might feel the ligament tear and hear a popping sound as the tear occurs. You’ll most likely feel a significant amount of initial pain and won’t be able to put any weight on your foot. Generally speaking, the more pain and swelling you experience, the more severe your sprain — and the longer it will take to heal.
How to treat your sprained ankle
There are three phases to treating your mild to moderately sprained ankle. Phase one involves resting, protecting and reducing the swelling of your injured ankle. For such an ankle sprain, follow the R.I.C.E. treatment method.
- Rest. Don’t walk on your ankle! Put as little weight on it as possible. If you need to, use crutches. Try using an ankle brace to control the swelling and provide more stability while your ankle heals.
- Ice your ankle to manage the swelling. Ice your ankle for 10 to 20 minutes every hour or so for at least the first 24 to 72 hours following your injury, or until the swelling goes down. However, never apply ice directly to your skin. Use an ice pack or wrap the ice (or cold pack) in a towel.
- Compression can also help control swelling and support healing. Try using a compression bandage for the first 24 to 36 hours following your injury.
- Elevate your ankle. Recline and prop your foot above your heart for two or three hours a day, if possible, to reduce swelling and bruising.
After following the RICE program, you should expect to see your swelling go down in a few days. If you’ve sustained a more serious sprain, give the program a day or two more and make sure to see a doctor.
Once you’ve reduced the amount of swelling and are no longer experiencing pain, you can enter phase two of treatment. Slowly restore your ankle’s flexibility and range of motion by doing exercises designed to strengthen your muscles and ligaments. Ask your doctor for exercise recommendations before entering phase two.
Phase three involves slowly returning to activities that don’t require you to twist and turn your ankle. During phase three, you’ll also perform exercises to maintain your ankle’s flexibility, range of motion and strength. Eventually, your ankle will heal and you can return to your pre-injury level of activity.
If you experience a severe or debilitating sprain, you’re at risk of permanently injuring your ankle. You should consult with a doctor to assess your injury and begin discussing your rehabilitation plan options. The best rehabilitation plan for you may include surgery.
Finally, you can avoid spraining your ankle again by paying attention to your body’s warnings signs. If you feel fatigued or start to experience discomfort during any portion of your rehab — or anytime thereafter — slow down and don’t overdo it.
Learn more about treating your sprained ankle
If you think you may have sprained your ankle and would like to learn more about your treatment options, schedule an evaluation with Onward Orthopedics today. Simply submit an online form or call one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.