Your ankle is made up of multiple small bones connected by tough tissue called ligaments. These ligaments stabilize the joint and control the range of motion, ensuring your ankle doesn’t bend or twist too far. But when the ankle is forced to move in such a way that ligaments are torn or stretched, an ankle sprain occurs.
Ankle sprains are a fairly common foot injury—so common it’s estimated that nearly 70% of people don’t seek medical treatment. It is true that many ankle sprains can get better without professional intervention, but the problem occurs when people rush back from a sprain. Not addressing a sprain or playing through the pain can lead to problems down the line—minor problems like the likelihood of a re-injury or more significant problems like osteoarthritis.
Causes of Ankle Sprains
The majority of ankle sprains happen when someone is participating in a sport or other physical activity (they actually make up 25% of all sports-related injuries), but they can occur due to small things like a simple misstep off of a curb or stepping on a child’s toy in the floor.
Athletes in high-impact sports like football, basketball, and soccer are likely to see sprains due to the number of quick pivots and cuts their sports require. But non-impact activities like golf and hiking see their fair share of injuries.
How Ankle Sprains Happen
- Twisting the ankle too much
- Rolling the foot or ankle to the side
- Walking or exercising on an uneven surface
- Another person stepping or landing on your foot
- Landing in a position other than flat on your feet after a jump
Ankle sprains fall into three categories or grades. A grade I sprain is the lowest level and involves an overstretched or partially torn ligament. Someone with a grade I sprain can walk with minimal discomfort.
A grade II sprain is the next level, and it involves a bigger, but not complete tear. For this level of sprain, bruising may occur, and walking is difficult.
The most severe level of ankle sprain is a grade III, or one that involves a complete tear of a ligament. Severe pain and swelling are associated with this level of sprain, and walking is almost impossible.
Who Is Most at Risk for a Sprained Ankle?
A sprained ankle can happen to anyone that is moving, young or old. While this is a prevalent injury for those involved in sports, there are a few other factors that might put your more at risk for a sprained ankle.
Risk Factors for Ankle Sprains
- Skipping warm-ups. Whether you’re playing an organized sport or exercising on your own, your body needs time to warm up before you jump into an activity. Your ligaments need to be properly stretched before they’re put to heavy use.
- Increasing your workload suddenly. Find a new physical activity that you love, or find a renewed love for working out? Make sure you don’t overdo it. Drastically increasing the amount of physical activity you’re involved in can leave you vulnerable to injury.
- Wearing incorrect shoes. If you’re involved in physical activity, make sure your shoes match your energy level. If your footwear is worn or it’s not the right type for the activity you’re doing, it may not provide your foot with the support it needs, opening the door for you to roll your ankle.
- Fighting through fatigue and pain. Listen to your body. If you’re in pain while working out or playing a sport, your body is telling you that something is wrong. If you fight through pain or push through fatigue, you may be stretching your ligaments beyond what they can handle.
- Other health problems. The natural shape of your foot or structural problems in your foot can play a role in how easily you suffer ankle sprains. Additionally, so can a condition like obesity, which places excess strain on your ankle bones, muscles, and ligaments.
- Not treating prior ankle injuries. Even properly treated, an ankle sprain leaves that ankle vulnerable to future injuries. But if you didn’t treat the injury properly the first time or you’re rushing back from an injury too soon, the chances of being injured again increase dramatically.
Symptoms of Ankle Sprains
When you sprain your ankle, you’ll notice it immediately. Sometimes there will be an audible snap or pop, but there’s almost always immediate pain. These symptoms will vary depending on the level of the sprain.
How to Know When You’ve Sprained Your Ankle
- Difficulty walking
If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, you need to visit a doctor. Putting treatment off can potentially make the injury itself worse and cause the ankle to heal incorrectly, leading to chronic problems later.
Treatment Options for an Ankle Sprain
If you’ve suffered an ankle sprain, the good news is that only the most severe sprains will require surgery to heal. In most cases, a conservative RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) combined with anti-inflammatory medicine and physical therapy is enough to get you moving again. Physical therapy may be needed for moderate sprains.
If the sprain was bad enough that it completely tore a ligament or partially tore multiple ligaments, surgery might be recommended.
For a minor sprain, you will probably have a recovery time of at least two or three weeks. For a more severe sprain, it could take six to 12 weeks before you’re back on your feet.
Let Shenandoah Podiatry Treat Your Ankle Sprain
While the first reaction for many people is just to let their ankle sprain heal on its own, your injury may be severe enough that it doesn’t happen. If you’ve sprained your ankle, let the experienced staff at Shenandoah Podiatry help you with a recovery plan.
We know you may be hesitant to see a doctor for a “small” thing like this, but we’ve helped more than 132,000 patients with issues big and small. If you’re ready to restore your foot health, call our office at 540-904-1458 to schedule your appointment or use our online contact form, and we’ll get in touch with you.