An ankle sprain is very common, as the ankle joint – which connects the foot with the lower leg – is easily injured. An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments or tendons of the ankle. Injury to the ligaments occurs when more than normal stretching force is applied to them.
Ankle sprains are a frequent injury among athletes, notably runners. They can be quite painful, and make it a challenge to conduct daily activities. Because ankle sprains and ankle fractures can present with similar symptoms, it is important to be evaluated by a trained foot and ankle specialist if pain persists for more than a few days post-injury.
Causes of Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains most often occur:
- With a twisting motion that happens when the foot is placed in an awkward position, such as on uneven ground.
- When an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint.
- Stepping into a in a hole.
- When a player steps on another during an athletic event, such as happens often in basketball.
Symptoms of an Ankle Sprain
Inflammation is a primary symptom of an ankle sprain. With inflammation, these changes typically occur:
- Swelling due to the increase of fluid in the tissue.
- Pain due to greater nerve sensitivity.
- Throbbing in the joint hurts.
- Worsening pain when you press on the sore area.
- Increased pain with movement of the foot or walking on weight-bearing.
- Redness and warmth caused by increased blood flow to the area.
When to Seek Medical Care for an Ankle Sprain
An ankle sprain itself may not be reason to visit your doctor. The problem is how to tell a sprain from a more serious injury such as a fracture.
Look for these signs for when it’s time to seek medical care:
- Your pain is severe or uncontrolled, even with over-the-counter medications, elevation and icing.
- You cannot walk or can’t walk without severe pain.
- Your ankle pain does not improve within 5-7 days. You may still have pain, but it should be improving.
Exams and Tests for Ankle Sprain
If your physician suspects a sprain is more serious, they will conduct a physical exam and likely order an X-ray to determine if an ankle fracture is present. Additional exams will make sure you have not injured a nerve or artery in the foot. It is also important to check the Achilles tendon for signs of rupture.
Self-Care at Home for an Ankle Sprain
Home care for an ankle sprain is focused on lessening the pain, decreasing inflammation and promoting healing.
Reduce inflammation with R.I.C.E.:
- Rest prevents further injury and avoids stress on already inflamed tissue. Wear a brace or splint.
- Ice will counteract the increased blood flow to the injured area and reduce swelling, redness and warmth. Apply ice soon after the
injury to prevent inflammation.
- Compression can help keep swelling down. Use compression wraps, such as Ace bandages (do not apply tightly).
- Elevation to keep the injured area above the level of the heart to help the body absorb fluid that has leaked into the tissue.
- Anti-inflammatory pain medications will reduce the pain and combat the swelling. Over-the-counter options include ibuprofen
(Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Check with your doctor first if you have any medical problems or take any other medicines.
Preventing Ankle Sprains
Here are a few key tips for preventing ankle sprains:
- Wear the right shoes with the proper support, especially for sports.
- Keep your ankles strong and flexible.
- If you are participating in a sport, you might want to consider having a weak ankle taped to offer extra support. If you have
repeated sprains, wearing an ankle brace during play may also help.
- Make sure that the playing field is clear of any holes or obstacles.
- Remove any obstacles or trip hazards from your home or yard.