What is an ankle sprain?

A sprained ankle is a common injury that occurs when you turn, roll or twist your ankle to such an unnatural degree that the ligaments holding the ankle together become torn or stretched. Though quite common, a sprained ankle can represent a serious injury is not treated correctly in an adequately short amount of time. 

With BICMD, you are able to access the best orthopedic specialists in the country to make sure you are receiving the care you need to keep your sprained ankle from becoming a lifelong mobility setback. If you think you have sprained your ankle, schedule your telemedicine appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists right away. The sooner you receive proper diagnosis and care, the sooner you’ll be on the road to recovery. 

Symptoms of a sprained ankle 

Symptoms of a sprained ankle can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the associated ligaments. If you have a sprained ankle, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms: 

  • A popping sensation at the time of the injury 
  • Hearing an audible snap sound when the injury occurs
  • Pain that worsens with weight bearing movements 
  • A feeling of instability in the ankle when standing or walking 
  • Tenderness to touch  
  • Swelling of the ankle joint 
  • Bruising of the ankle 
  • Limited range of motion 

Contributing factors to spraining an ankle

Some people are more likely to experience a sprained ankle than others. Those who are more active are more likely to suffer from sprains because the physical activities they take part in provide greater opportunities to roll, twist or turn their ankles. In addition to greater physical activity, other contributing factors to the prevalence of sprained ankles include: 

  • Athletics – People who participate in sports that include jumping, running, and quick turns are more likely to experience a sprained ankle. Our BICMD physicians often treat sprained ankles in patients who participate in trail running, basketball, soccer, tennis and football. 
  • Activity on Uneven Surfaces – Jogging, hiking, running or even walking on uneven surfaces such as unpaved trails, older pavement, backcountry trails, mountains or even poorly-maintained fields results in an increased risk of sprains. 
  • Prior injury to the ankle – An ankle joint that has previously experienced a sprain is more likely to become sprained again, and the ligaments that hold the ankle together may be slightly permanently weakened or elongated. 
  • Lack of conditioning – Weaker muscles in the legs, feet and ankles are less adept at keeping the body stable during movement, increasing the odds of acquiring a sprain. 

Treatment for minor ankle sprains 

Properly treating your sprained ankle now can help you heal sooner and more completely to avoid long-term complications and pain. For a mild sprain, the R.I.C.E. method is typically the recommended treatment. The R.I.C.E. method includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation that allows the sprained ankle to heal on its own. 

Your BICMD physician will let you know if this at-home method is your best course of treatment for your sprained ankle. If your doctor determines that your sprain is mind, he or she will devise a custom treatment plan for your unique anatomy and injury that helps you heal faster and more completely. 

Surgical treatment for severe ankle sprains 

For severe sprains or those that do not respond to non-surgical methods, surgery may be the best option for complete healing. Surgical treatment for severe ankle sprains typically involves reconstructing the damaged or torn ligament in the ankle, either with stitches or a graft that allows new ligament tissue to grow. Your BICMD physician will let you know if your sprain is severe enough to require surgery and help you understand your options. 

During surgery, your surgeon will look inside your ankle with a small camera known as an arthroscope to find any loose fragments of bone or cartilage, which would be removed. Then, the damaged ligament will be reconstructed using stitches if the tear is minor. If the tear or damage is more severe, a graft will be installed on which new ligament tissue will grow. 

After surgery, you’ll be asked to keep your ankle immobilized for a period of time designated by your doctor. You ankle may be placed in a cast or a post-surgery boot to help with immobilization during this period. 

The goal of rehabilitation after ankle sprain surgery is to restore your ankle to pre-injury function. Some patients are able to achieve full range of motion after ankle sprain surgery. Rehabilitation can last for weeks or months depending on the severity of the injury. It is important to stick to the rehabilitation schedule recommended by your doctor, as it is designed to help you heal more completely and preserve as much function as possible in your ankle. 

Ankle sprain prevention 

When BICMD doctors treat a patient with a sprained ankle, they always stress the importance of preventing future sprain injuries by using these methods listed below. Prevention is a key factor that we attempt to impart in all of our patients. 

  • Warm up before physical activity – Before doing any kind of physical activity, it’s critical to properly warm up and stretch the muscles and ligaments to prevent injury.
  • Pay attention to stepping surfaces – Roots, rocks, uneven pavement, and unexpected curbs are common catalysts to sprain injuries. If you’re in an area of uneven ground, slow down and keep your eyes on the path so you can avoid obstacles that can lead to a sprained ankle.
  • Use a brace – Use a support brace or athletic tape to support a weak or previously injured ankle during physical activity. 
  • Wear the right shoes – Well-fitting shoes that provide the right amount of arch support and grip will help prevent awkward movements that lead to sprains.
  • Pace yourself – When beginning a new sport or exercise program, slowly  increase the level of difficulty as your strength and ability increases. Pushing your body too far too quickly can increase your potential for injury. 
  • Take part in stability training – Stability training and balance exercises can help strengthen the muscles that keep your body balanced during movement.