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Sprained Ankle Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT January 16, 2020 0 Comments

Ankle Sprain Pain

Even the slightest misstep can cause a sprained ankle with the right (or rather, wrong) conditions. It's common for sprains to range in severity, so understanding what is a sprained ankle is key to a quick recovery. Be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment program. Read on to learn how to recognize common causes, symptoms, and types of sprained ankle injuries.

What is a Sprained Ankle?

Sprained ankles are extremely common—approximately 25,000 people sprain an ankle every day. Not to be confused with a strain, which involves injury to the muscles or tendons, an ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments—tough bands of tissue that hold bones together. Ankle sprains happen when these ligaments are overstretched or, in severe cases, torn.

Sprained Ankle Causes

A sprained ankle is caused by a sudden and forceful shift in the natural position of the ankle joint, leading to the stretching or tearing of the ankle’s ligaments. There are several common reasons for this shift:

  • Walking, running, or simply stepping on an uneven surface can cause an ankle sprain.
  • Landing awkwardly on your foot after slipping, falling, or jumping is an easy way to injure your ankle.
  • Unbalanced placement of the foot when stepping up or down places tension on the ankle ligaments, making them more susceptible to strains.
  • Sports place added demands on the ankle’s range of motion, increasing the risk of a sprained ankle. This is especially true with high impact sports that involve quick changes of direction or pivoting.
  • Previous injury to the ankle can have long-lasting effects on the joint’s stability, depending on the severity. Those who have previously sprained an ankle are more likely to injure their ankle again.

Sprained Ankle Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of a sprained ankle will help you differentiate between a sprain and a bone break—and seek proper treatment immediately.

Recognizing the symptoms of a sprained ankle is key to preventing further damage to the joint. Here are the common signs of a sprained ankle.

  • Pain and Discomfort

    Depending on the severity of the sprain, you may experience considerable discomfort or excruciating pain. You may hear or feel a pop at the moment the injury occurs.

  • Sprained Ankle Bruising

    A sprained ankle is usually accompanied by bruising, as well as swelling and stiffness. Pronounced bruising is usually a sign of a severe ankle sprain.

  • Sprained Ankle Swelling

    A swollen sprained ankle is the byproduct of increased blood flow to the area—the body's way of initiating the healing process. Added blood flow may also cause heat and redness.

  • Symptoms of a bone break

    If you experience severe pain, cannot tolerate bearing weight through your ankle at all, experience numbness or tingling, and/or have pain directly over your ankle bone, you may have a broken bone. You’re doctor can order an X-ray to rule this out.

Types of Sprained Ankle Pain

Not all sprained ankles are created equal. Identifying the type and grade of your sprained ankle can help you choose the correct treatment option.

Inversion vs. Eversion Ankle Sprain

  • Inversion Ankle Sprain

    An inversion sprain happens when the ankle rolls inward and damages the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle. Inversion sprains are the most common type of ankle sprain.

  • Eversion Ankle Sprain

    Less frequently, the ankle rolls outward. An eversion sprain is painful along the inner side of the ankle and can cause serious injury to the ligaments and tendons supporting the arch of the foot.

Sprained Ankle Grades

Ankle sprains range from mild to severe. The presentation of symptoms usually match the severity of the injury.

1. Grade 1 Ankle Sprain (Mild)

A mild ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments are stretched, sometimes displaying microscopic tears. Symptoms include:
  • Mild pain
  • Slight swelling
  • Light bruising, if any

2. Grade 2 Ankle Sprain (Moderate)

A sprained ankle is considered moderate when there is partial tearing of the ligaments and abnormal looseness of the joint. Symptoms include:
  • Moderate pain
  • Noticeable swelling
  • Moderate bruising
  • Joint instability with weight-bearing activity

3. Grade 3 Ankle Sprain (Severe)

A severely sprained ankle is classified by the complete tear of ligaments. Symptoms include:
  • Intense pain
  • Significant swelling
  • Severe bruising
  • Major joint instability

Sprained Ankle Prevention

There are a number of precautionary steps you can take to prevent ankle sprains:

  • Always warm up properly before exercise or other strenuous activities.
  • Use exercise to establish good muscle strength, coordination, and improve flexibility and balance.
  • Use care when walking or running on uneven surfaces.
  • Wear shoes that provide proper ankle support.
  • Use a suitable ankle brace for high-risk activities, such as sports or hiking.

How to Prevent Ankle Sprains

Sprained Ankle Recovery & Outlook

Sprained ankle recovery time varies depending on the degree of the sprain. Those with grade 1 sprains typically resume normal activities after two weeks. Recovering from more severe sprains takes longer—anywhere from six to twelve weeks.

Sprained Ankle Rehab & Physical Therapy

Regardless of the severity of the ankle sprain, there are three phases of ankle of recovery that need to be followed to ensure complete rehabilitation and to prevent complications:

Phase 1 

Follow the initial R.I.C.E. guidelines of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This phase continues until symptoms are better managed and improving.

 

Phase 2

Slowly introduce gentle exercises to improve range of motion, flexibility and strength.

 

Phase 3

Progress exercises and gradually return to normal activities. Following the completion of this last phase of ankle rehabilitation, return to sports and other activities while keeping up with a maintenance exercise program.

Learn more ways to treat a sprained ankle

SHOP SPRAINED ANKLE PRODUCTS
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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