A sprained ankle is a common acute injury. It occurs when the ligament that holds the ankle bones together is stretched past its normal range.
A sprained ankle can occur if the ankle is rolled or twisted beyond the normal range of motion. Although a sprained ankle can occur during sports and other fitness activities, it can also easily happen during everyday activities. For example, stepping down off a curb onto an uneven surface can cause the ankle to roll.
Symptoms and Natural History
Symptoms of a sprained ankle are felt suddenly as soon as the injury occurs. Pain in the ankle is the main symptom. It may be difficult to bear weight on the affected foot. A short time later, swelling may develop. Within a few hours, the ankle may also become bruised.
The severity symptoms may depend on the grade of the sprain. There are three grades. A grade one sprain involves mild stretching and damage to the ligament. Partial tearing of the ligament occurs in a grade two sprain. In a grade three sprain, the ligament is completely torn, and instability of the ankle joint occurs.
During the healing process, a sprained ankle can limit physical activities. Sports and other vigorous activities will need to be put on hold until the ankle has healed. The good news is most sprained ankles heal within a few weeks with no lasting damage.
Since most people can pinpoint how they sprained their ankle, a diagnosis is usually easy to make. The first step is an exam and a review of how the injury occurred. Your doctor will examine your foot and ankle to check your range of motion and for areas of tenderness. An x-ray may also be ordered to rule out a fractured ankle. If a more serious soft tissue injury is suspected, an MRI may be needed.
Self-help Treatments for a Sprained Ankle
Self-help treatment for a sprained ankle includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest the ankle by not walking on it and using assisted devices, such as crutches. Nonprescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen may be enough to reduce discomfort. In grade three sprains, stronger prescription pain medications may be needed.
Appling ice as soon as possible after the injury for about twenty minutes four times a day may reduce swelling and pain. It may also be helpful to wrap the ankle with an elastic bandage to decrease swelling. Avoid wrapping it too tightly, which can interfere with adequate circulation. Lastly, elevating the foot may also help decrease swelling.
Standard Clinical Treatments for a Sprained Ankle
In many cases, self-help treatments will be all that is needed to heal from a sprained ankle. If the sprain is a grade two or three, a splint may need to be applied to immobilize the ankle while it heals. Surgery is only performed in cases with the ligament was severely torn and needs to be repaired.
Rice University. Ankle Sprains. http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/ankle.sprain.html
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. How to care for a Sprained Ankle. https://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/how-to/foot-injury/Pages/How%20to%20Care%20for%20a%20Sprained%20Ankle.aspx