Ankle sprains are one of the most commonly diagnosed injuries in the United States—by some accounts there are around 25,000 new sprains each day. Kids and young athletes are the most at risk, but the truth is that almost anyone, at any age, can sprain their ankle after an awkward tumble. Many cases can be resolved through home care, but it’s important for a professional to assess the damage to minimize the risk that a bad sprain turns into future pain.
Assessing a Sprained Ankle
Your ankle relies on a number of thick, strong bands of tissue called ligaments to hold the bones in the joint together and in proper alignment. An ankle sprain occurs when one or more of these ligaments are stretched or torn. Most frequently, this occurs in the lateral ligaments on the outside of the ankle (inversion), but ligaments on the inside (eversion sprain) or above (high ankle sprain) can also be injured.
There are three classification grades based on severity:
- Grade I: Stretching of the ligament is mild, and tears are microscopic. You would feel a little tenderness and observe some swelling.
- Grade II: The ligament has been partially torn, and swelling and tenderness is more pronounced. The ankle may feel “loose” when moved in a certain way.
- Grade III: One or more ligaments are completely torn. Bruising, tenderness, swelling, and instability may be significant.
Don’t Skip the Diagnosis
Despite how common sprains are, it’s important that you visit our office to get a full examination. There are a couple of very good reasons for this:
First, ankle sprains don’t always occur on their own. A thorough exam may reveal broken bones, torn peroneal tendons, damage to cartilage, or other injuries that need to be addressed.
Second, moderate-to-severe sprains may lead to chronic pain, or even continued ankle instability, if not treated quickly and effectively. This can significantly reduce your long-term mobility and comfort, so it’s best not to take the chance.
First Aid for a Sprain
When you first feel a painful twinge in your ankle, you may be tempted to try to push through it. Don’t. The best thing is to get off your foot immediately and practice RICE therapy until you can get in for an appointment. RICE stands for:
- Rest: Take the weight off your ankle; don’t walk on it.
- Ice: Use something cold wrapped in thin cloth, up to 20 minutes per hour as necessary.
- Compression: Use a bandage or wrap.
- Elevation: Keep your ankle raised when you sit or recline.
Tailored Treatment for Ankle Sprains
The treatment approach will be based on the type and severity of the initial injury The good news is that the vast majority of sprains (even very serious ones) can be treated successfully using conservative methods.
For a Grade I sprain, RICE therapy (along with temporary use of over-the-counter pain medications) may be all the treatment you need. At Grade II and above, however, we may need to take more action to ensure proper healing with the lowest risk of long-term issues.
Often the ankle may need to be immobilized for a period of time to protect the joint while it heals. Less severe injuries may only need a brace or walking boot, while a more serious tear could require a short leg cast for 2-3 weeks.
As the injury heals, we’ll be able to provide a schedule for when you can start to bear weight, engage in progressively more vigorous activity, and pursue physical therapy. This is a crucial part of helping you regain lost muscle strength, range of motion, and flexibility without risking a re-injury. It’s important for you to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.
Very rarely, surgery might be necessary. If we believe your case requires a more invasive treatment approach, we will refer you to the proper specialist.
Don’t shrug off an ankle sprain—get the help you need to get back on your feet quickly and avoid long-term pain. Request an appointment with the Wilks Advanced Foot Care using our online contact form, or give us a call at (541) 673-0742 today.