Introduction to Ankle Sprain
An ankle sprain is a common injury of one or more ankle ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that hold the joint in place. They can become stretched, twisted or torn.
What is an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain is a common injury of one or more ankle ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that hold the joint in place. They can become stretched, twisted or torn as a result of landing on your ankle awkwardly. Ankle sprains are a common result of activities that involve explosive side-to-side motion, such as tennis or basketball, but can also result from accidental falls. The ligaments do have some flexibility, and will hold their shape within a specific range of motion, however if extended outside its range of motion, can tear, causing a sprain. Ankle sprains are usually minor injuries, but repeated or severe sprained ankles can lead to long term joint pain and weakness.
What causes an Ankle Sprain?
Sprains occur during explosive motion sports or accidents that involve a fall or collision. Common motions that lead to ankle sprains include overreach, rapid change in direction, fall or awkward landing and a collision into an object. Competitive athletes are at a greater risk because the intense nature of their training and overuse of certain muscle groups. Children are also prone to injury whilst playing sports because their joints are still in development. Those who do not regularly exercise or perform inadequate warm ups will not have flexible ligaments on exertion and may have severely restricted ligament range of motion. Exercise is very important in health and wellbeing, but it must be done safely to avoid unnecessary injury.
What are the symptoms of an Ankle Sprain?
Usually the ankle sprain will become painful immediately after the ligament tear, and will become red, swollen, tender to touch and painful to move. The ankle sprain can be mild to severe, depending on how extensive the ligament damage is, and mild injuries usually are swollen and red, but can be walked on with minimal pain. In severe cases, you might hear a snap or popping sound followed by extreme pain. The amount of pain and swelling present is a good indicator of how severe the damage is. It is important to seek medical attention if you think the sprain is severe, so that the ankle can be properly assessed.
How is an Ankle Sprain treated?
Many ankle sprains can be treated at home using over the counter painkillers and rest. If you are treating the sprain at home, then you must remember to use “RICE” and avoid “HARM”. RICE stands for: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The joint should be immobilised and rested for 48-72 hours after injury and wrapped in a damp towel with ice every 2-3 hours for 15-20 minutes. The joint should be compressed in a bandage to prevent swelling and restrict movement of the ankle. This should not be fitted too tightly, as it may restrict blood flow, and should be removed before going to bed. Finally, the joint should be elevated and supported on a pillow to prevent further swelling, and you should avoid long periods of time when your leg isn’t raised. You should also avoid HARM, which stands for: Heat, Alcohol, Running and Massage. Any source of heat, including hot baths or heat packs, should be avoided as they can aggravate the swelling. This is also true of alcohol; however, it can also slow the healing process. Running and massages can cause further damage before the joint has been able to properly heal and can cause bleeding and swelling. Painkillers, such as paracetamol, are advised for painful sprains, however if stronger painkillers are required a prescription will be necessary.
Ankle sprains usually take several weeks to recover, however it will depend on the severity of the ligament damage. You may be able to fully use your ankle after 6-8 weeks, and return to sport activities after 12 weeks. If pain persists, or you experience intermittent swelling for months or years after the injury you may need to consider further treatment. In these cases, you will be referred to an orthopaedic specialist who can assess the ankle and recommend a treatment plan.