Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, with nearly 25,000 sprains being registered each year (and that doesn’t include ones that people don’t seek treatment for). They’re common in most sports, and especially in ball sports where hard cuts and the ball itself can lead to missteps. Most athletes in basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball and lacrosse, for example, are well aware of the injury.
Athletes aren’t the only ones who are at risk of spraining their ankle, though. This is an injury that can occur almost anywhere, including just walking in the yard or down a sidewalk. Most anyone who walks, runs or otherwise uses their feet could sprain their ankle some time.
What Causes an Ankle to Sprain?
The ankle is a flexible joint that’s able to move the foot in many different directions and to quite a degree. There are limits to how an ankle can bend, however, and exceeding these limits may result in an ankle sprain (or another injury).
Specifically, a sprain occurs when a ligament (which connects bones together) is stretched beyond its capacity and tears as a result. A sprain can occur when a ligament is over-flexed, but it more often occurs when a ligament is stretched in an unnatural direction.
In ankles, most sprains result from a tear of an outside ligament that’s stretched too far as the foot rolls inward during a misstep. For example, a ligament on the outside of the ankle can be overstretched if the foot rolls inward as a person missteps on a ball or curb. Some missteps roll the foot outward and tear an interior ligament, though.
When an ankle is sprained, the interior damage is often accompanied by swelling and sometimes deep bruising. Because the damage occurs within the ankle itself, any bruise that develops is deeper than a typical bruise and can take longer to dissipate.
How Should You Treat an Ankle Sprain at Home?
Many ankle sprains can be safely treated at home with some basic care. A common acronym that’s used to remember at-home treatment is rest:
- Rest: The sprained ankle should be rested and not used as much as possible. The less often weight is put on the ankle, the faster it can heal. Crutches are sometimes necessary to keep weight off of moderate and severe sprains.
- Ice: Ice is an effective way to reduce the swelling. Medical cold packs can be used, but bags of small frozen vegetables (e.g. corn or peas) conform to the ankle nicely. The frozen package should be wrapped in a thin towel and placed on the injured ankle for about 20 minutes at a time, with an equal period without ice in between. This is especially important shortly after the sprain, when swelling is at its worst. A bucket of ice water can be used instead of an ice pack if desired.
- Compression: Wrapping ankle sprains can also help reduce swelling, and wraps can provide some additional support while an ankle heals (in case some weight is put on the ankle). An ace bandage can be used to wrap an ankle, or there are ankle-specific sleeves available.
- Elevation: Keeping the ankle elevated as much as possible, especially shortly after the initial injury, can further help reduce swelling. An ankle can be rested on a footrest, couch or chair to elevate it.
When Do You Need to Seek Medical Care for an Ankle Sprain?
While most ankle sprains will recover with at-home care, some do require medical expertise. If absolutely no weight can be put on an ankle or if an ankle sprain doesn’t get better with time, an orthopedist should evaluate the injury. An orthopedic surgeon’s area of specialty includes sprains in all joints, including the ankle.
Get Treatment for Your Ankle Sprain
If an ankle sprain seems serious and is bothering you, schedule a consultation with one of our orthopedic surgeons. Our orthopedists will know what the best course of treatment for your injury is, and they can recommend both non-surgical and surgical treatments depending on your particular case. Contact us today to schedule a consultation as soon as possible, so you can be on the way to the fastest recovery possible.
At Prime Surgical Suites, we provide state-of-the-art, cost-effective musculoskeletal surgical care in a convenient and comfortable outpatient setting for patients of all ages. Located in RiverCrest Medical Park, we are the region's first outpatient center focused exclusively on orthopedics. Our physician-led center will help restore your active lifestyle and well-being with compassion and orthopedic excellence.