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Sprained Ankles Need Attention

Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries seen in doctor's offices and emergency departments every day.

When you sprain an ankle, one or more ligaments of your ankle become stretched or torn. Ankle sprains most often occur when your toes are on the ground, but your heel is up and you are walking on an uneven surface. Your ankle can turn inward, damaging the ligaments.

Ligaments of the ankle provide mechanical stability, allow motion of the joint, and provide a sense of where your ankle joint is. The most commonly sprained ligaments are those on the outside of the ankle, on the side farthest from the other ankle. But, it is also possible to sprain the ligaments on the inside of the ankle. 

If you think you've sprained your ankle, see your doctor. Although in many cases X-rays are not necessary, your doctor may decide that you need one to make sure you do not have a fracture and to determine a treatment plan.

Recurring sprains can lead to arthritis, tendon injury, and an ankle that gives way easily.

Your doctor may advise you to:

  • Immobilize the ankle with an inflatable splint.

  • Use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).

  • Let the ankle bear weight as best you can, using crutches.

  • Move the ankle a bit with your health provider's guidance.

  • Take anti-inflammatory medications.

In severe cases, your doctor may put a cast on the foot and ankle for 10 to 14 days.

Your doctor may advise you to wear an ankle brace for a few months, especially during a high-risk activity, such as playing basketball or volleyball, hiking, or just climbing stairs.

Ankle sprain severity and appropriate treatment

Grade 1. A stretching of the ligaments. Treat by using RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

Grade 2. A stretching and some rupture of the ligaments. Treat by using RICE and by allowing additional time to heal. A sprain of this severity may need to be splinted.

Grade 3. Greater rupture of the ligaments. You may need to wear a cast or a cast brace for 2 to 3 weeks while the injury heals. Repeated ankle sprains may require surgery to repair the ligaments.

Recovery after a sprain

Whatever the severity of sprain, the ankle needs time to recover. The first step in rehabilitation is to rest the ankle, protecting it from further injury and reducing the swelling by following RICE. The next step is to strengthen muscles and ligaments, and to restore range of motion. The last step involves activities that move the foot in a straight line, followed later by sports that use more cutting, or side-to-side movements.

If you sprain your ankle, it's important to follow through with rehabilitation to avoid further injury. Once your ankle is fully recovered, work to keep your ankle in good shape with flexibility and strengthening exercises.

Ankle exercise

When your ankle feels more stable, ask your doctor about this exercise:

Stand on both legs. Brace yourself with one hand. Lift the uninjured leg off the ground by bending your knee. Do this for 60 seconds with your eyes closed. Switch sides and repeat until it's just as easy on both sides. Then, increase the time. This helps strengthen your ankle and may help to prevent future injuries.