Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries. A sudden jolt or twist can overstretch and tear the supporting ligaments of the joint, causing pain and swelling.
Ligaments help stabilize joints, preventing excessive movement. A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments are forced beyond their normal range of motion. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.
Treatment for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. Although self-care measures and over-the-counter pain medications may be all you need, a medical evaluation of your physiotherapist is necessary to reveal how badly you’ve sprained your ankle and to determine the appropriate treatment.
The ankle joint
The ankle joint has three bones that are precisely shaped to interlock and give stability. Strong bands of connective tissue called ligaments reinforce the joint and help hold the bones together. These ligaments prevent too much movement of the joint.
A sudden movement or twist, often when the foot rolls in, can overstretch the supporting ligaments, causing ligament tears and bleeding around the joint. This is known as an ankle sprain. This is a common injury, particularly in activities that require running, jumping and change of direction (such as basketball and netball). Some people are particularly prone to recurring ankle sprains.
The symptoms of ankle sprain include:
Swelling – the ankle can swell in minutes or over several hours.
Pain in the ankle joint when trying to move it and when walking, especially when the knee goes forward over the foot.
Suggestions for immediate treatment of an ankle sprain include:
Stop your activity.
Rest the injured joint.
Use icepacks every two hours, applied for 15 minutes.
Bandage the joint firmly, and extend the wrapping up the calf and down the foot.
Raise the ankle above heart height whenever possible.
Avoid exercise, heat, alcohol and massage in the first 48 hours, as these can all exacerbate swelling.
Recurring ankle sprains
Some people get recurring ankle sprains. This can be caused by a number of factors working in combination, including:
Ligament scarring and excess looseness, as a result of previous ankle sprains
Insufficient rehabilitation from previous sprains. This can lead to weak muscles surrounding the ankle joint, especially on the outside (peroneal muscles). It can also cause decreased capacity to judge where your foot is in relation to your leg; this is called a proprioceptive deficit.
If the pain from a sprained ankle that you are managing yourself has not improved after a day or so, it is best to seek medical advice. See your physiotherapist if the ankle continues to be troublesome.
Recurring ankle sprains need thorough assessment and rehabilitation.