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Ankle Sprains 101

Close up of woman touching her injured foot on white background.jpeg

An ankle sprain is a common injury that can affect patients of any age. Below is some basic information about ankle sprains and how they can affect you. 

What is an ankle sprain?

Ankle sprains occur when you stretch and/or tear the ligaments in your ankle. In most cases, sprains develop after you shift your ankle rapidly while keeping your foot planted in one place. This puts too much strain on the lateral ankle ligaments, which leads to damage. 

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What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain can cause a variety of symptoms depending on the severity of the injury. Some of the symptoms of an ankle sprain include:

  • A popping sensation at the time of the injury
  • Pain 
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Loss of mobility
  • Instability of the joint

How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?

In many cases, doctors are able to diagnose an ankle sprain simply by examining your ankle in person. However, if your symptoms are severe or the doctor has other reasons to suspect that the damage to your ankle is extensive, he or she may recommend imaging studies to look at the inside of your ankle. Imaging studies that may be used in this case include x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs. 

What treatments are available?

Most patients with ankle sprains will recover on their own with the right self-care measures. As your ankle heals, you should rest as much as possible and avoid any activities that cause you pain. You can also bring down swelling by placing ice on your ankle at regular intervals. In addition, your doctor may recommend using an elastic bandage to compress the damaged part of your ankle, and he or she may instruct you to keep your ankle elevated as much as possible to drain off excess fluid. 

Some patients with a sprained ankle may need to use crutches while the ankle heals. If you have lost stability or function in your ankle because of the injury, physical therapy may be necessary as well.

In rare cases, doctors recommend surgery for patients with severe sprains that can't heal properly on their own. The purpose of surgical procedures for sprained ankles is to repair or reconstruct damaged ligaments so the patient can regain normal function of the ankle and get relief from pain. 

Can future ankle sprains be prevented?

After you have sprained your ankle once, you are more likely to have the same injury again in the future. However, you can prevent future ankle sprains by being cautious. Be careful when walking or running on uneven surfaces, and always warm up before engaging in physical activity. Consider wearing a brace or supportive tape on the ankle you injured previously for stability, and make sure you are always wearing shoes that fit properly.