Sprained ankle injuries are among some of the most nefarious obstacles any athlete or physically active person can face. They sideline your training, force you to the bench, make you sit on the couch instead of doing what you love and, if it wasn’t bad enough already, these sprains can be among the most difficult injuries to recover from. But do not despair, not all hope is lost. With a few key steps and some attention to your body, getting back to 100 per cent after an ankle injury is possible. Here are a few guidelines on how to treat a sprained ankle.
What Causes An Ankle Sprain?
A sprained ankle is the result of twisting or turning your ankle awkwardly. The result of this action can be stretching or tearing of the bands of tissues holding your ankle bones together. In particular, ankle sprains can result from “rolling” your ankle. This happens when you either twist your ankle so that the sole of your feet points to the center of your body (inversion) or if you twist the ankle with the sole pointing outwards (away from the center of your body, known as eversion).
As with many sprains or strains, there are 3 different severity levels for a sprained ankle:
- A Grade I sprain involves merely stretched or slightly torn ligaments;
- Grade II sprains involve torn ligaments that are not completely detached;
- With a Grade III sprain, you will have suffered a completely torn ligament.
In most cases, a sprained ankle involves damage to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle (a result of inversion). The type of sprain that results is usually known as a low ankle sprain. This is distinct from a high ankle sprain, which we discuss next.
High Ankle Sprain
A high ankle sprain involves damage to the upper ligaments of the joint. These ligaments can be above the ankle itself. High ankle sprains are less common than sprains involving the lower ligaments. Contrary to low sprains, high ankle sprains usually result from damaged deltoid ligaments on the inside of the ankle. They are usually the result of rotating your foot so that the sole points away from the center of your body (eversion).
In addition to being less common than low sprains, high ankle sprains usually occur during intense or high contact athletic activity. The victims of high sprains tend to be athletes.
Symptoms Of An Ankle Sprain
In some cases, an ankle sprain is signalled by a popping feeling in the ankle at the instant you receive the injury. This may at times even be accompanied by a snapping sound. Subsequent symptoms of a low sprain include pain, tenderness, swelling and bruising. You may also experience restricted range of motion of your ankle and instability of the joint.
Some of the symptoms of a high sprain a very similar to those of a low sprain, including pain and swelling. However, one of the distinguishing features of the pain from a high sprain is that you will usually feel it above your ankle. The pain is typically felt between the tibia and fibula (the 2 bones of the lower leg). In some cases, a high ankle sprain may result in a fracture of the fibula (the outer bone in the lower leg).
The pain may be more intense when you are performing activities that require you to flex your ankle upward. One example of such an activity is going up or down stairs.
Treating A Sprained Ankle
One of the most frustrating parts of recovering from an ankle sprain is staying off of the injured area. Your ankle supports much of your weight when running, walking or even just standing. Taking a load off means limited mobility and a lack of activity. One of the best pieces of advice on how to treat an ankle sprain is to stay off your ankle by using crutches. It may take you a while to get to used to a walking aid, but the time spent tangling with crutches will be nothing compared to the drawn out recovery time that would result in putting too much stress on your injured ankle too soon. Ask your health care professional about crutches, how to use them, and other walking aids that will save your painful ankle from overexertion.
Compression and Support
Crutches will take the pressure off of your ankle, but a sprained muscle needs a little more than some time off to heal properly and quickly; it also needs some special love and care. Compression and support equipment will help the sprained ankle from jolting around and ruining the healing process. Ankle braces or wraps are usually the go-to gear that offers compression or support. These devices will help decrease swelling in your ankle, especially during the first 24 to 36 hours after you have sprained it. Braces should also be worn if attempting to bear weight on your injured ankle. Your doctor may also prescribe a walking boot or even a cast, depending on the severity of the sprain.
Ice and Anti-Inflammatory Medication
Reducing swelling is a critical step to helping a sprained ankle heal and mitigating the pain from an injury. Apply ice at regular intervals for the first 2 or 3 days after the injury, or until the swelling has receded. Apply an ice pack or cold compress for 15 to 30 minutes every 1 to 2 hours during the day. Use a thin piece of cloth or towel to wrap the ice in so you do not put ice directly on the skin. Avoid keeping the ice on the skin for more than 20 minutes at a time to avoid negative skin reactions.
Anti-inflammatory medications may also help reduce swelling and pain. However, some of these medications come with harmful side effects and risks from overuse. For pain reduction without any potential side effects or addiction risks, we would suggest a topical analgesic.. We suggest that you consult your doctor before taking any medication; they will be able to suggest the best medication for you.
As with any injury, taking some time off from your normal activities is recommended. Physical activity or sports will likely only exacerbate the injury, especially a sprained ankle as the ankle is a critical part of motion, balance and agility in most exercises. There will be a time during the recovery process where you need to get back at it and strengthen the sprained muscle, but when the sprain has just occurred, it’s wise to rest and relax. Limit weight bearing and if you must move around and put some pressure on the ankle, use aids, such as crutches, braces or compression wraps.
Once your sprained ankle has gone through the first phase of recovery (or the pain it nagging for a prolonged period of time), it’s time to start rehabbing it and gaining strength. Visiting a physiotherapist is the best place to start. They will know the health of your ankle and how to treat an ankle sprain by getting it from weak to fully functioning once again. Physiotherapy will help you restore your ankle’s flexibility and range of motion. They will help you gradually return to activity that utilizes your ankle as well. Once you can stand on your ankle again, your physiotherapist will prescribe exercise routines to strengthen your muscles and ligaments. It’s crucial to complete the rehabilitation program because it makes it less likely that you’ll hurt the same ankle again.