Ankle sprains are common injuries. For most of us, they seem to occur at the most unlikely moments, like when we’re walking across the grass, or on uneven pavement. Outdoor activities increase the risk of developing sprains and strains, such as running in the sand, or mowing the lawn, but even sharp turns while playing sports can lead to ankle sprain and strain. Ill-fitting shoes, obesity, and previous ankle injuries increase our susceptibility to sprains.
Most injuries occur when the ankle is turned outward (eversion) or inward (inversion). The lateral, or outside of ligaments are the most commonly injured. The ensuing throbbing and swelling is a sign that you need to perform some first aid. The painful symptoms are the result of stretching the ligaments that connect the anklebones. Those ligaments can only stretch so far before they become damaged. It’s important to know when to see a doctor, and when home treatment is enough. Regardless, of the outcome, it’s imperative that you remember the acronym RICE when dealing with an ankle injury – REST, ICE, COMPRESSION (apply an elastic bandage or ankle support), and ELEVATION (above the level of the heart). Ice is essential for first aid. After 48 hours, it’s safe to use heat, or even alternate ice and heat to the area. Healing time is usually six weeks – patience and care are needed during healing to prevent re-injury and long- term problems.
Types of Ankle Sprains
It’s “just a sprain” can carry serious implications, if the degree of injury is severe. Ankle injuries fall into three categories - Grade I, II and III. Grade I injuries can usually be self-managed. Damage to the ligaments is minor, involving microscopic changes that heal most quickly, and without residual ankle instability. Grade II injuries also should heal well, but mean that the ligament may be partially torn. Recovery time may be longer, pain is more pronounced, as well as the amount of initial swelling. Grade III, or third degree ankle sprains usually result in ankle instability, and mean the ligaments have been torn.
Your doctor should provide a definite diagnosis, based on the degree of bruising, swelling and tenderness. X-Rays will probably be performed. Physical therapy can help strengthen the joint and prevent recurring injury. Rarely, surgery might be needed to reconstruct torn ligaments, followed by application of a cast for approximately six weeks, and followed by rehabilitative exercises.
If you have a history of frequent or suffer a new ankle sprains, take extra care. Remember, to Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate to prevent complications, and see your doctor for a full evaluation.
Kathleen Blanchard is a Registered Nurse and freelance health author. Visit her blog for more health news and information.