When it comes to surprise injuries, ankle sprains rank high on the list. You might plant your foot oddly during the course of a hectic pick-up game, or you might simply not see that hole or step down while going about your everyday business. No matter how it happens, you likely didn’t see it coming and now have sudden pain and a weak ankle.
Explaining a Sprain
The ankle joint, like many other joints, has thick bands of connective tissue called ligaments. This tissue helps hold the bones of the joint in their proper place, making for a more reliable and stable setup for moving and bearing weight. Ligaments are only intended to move so far, so if a force causes them to extend beyond their normal range of motion, overstretching or tearing can occur. This results in a sprain.
Ankle sprains are typically graded on three levels of severity:
- Grade 1: This type involves some stretching and potentially very tiny tears in the fibers of the ligament. Symptoms usually include a bit of tenderness and swelling around the ankle.
- Grade 2: What could be described as a “moderate” sprain, this involves a partial tear in the ligament. Pain and swelling is more intense than a Grade 1 sprain, and there can be some looseness of the joint detected if the doctor moves it in certain ways (PLEASE do not attempt to do this yourself!).
- Grade 3: The ligament has completely torn, resulting in plenty of pain and swelling around the ankle. The joint can be very unstable at this point as well.
A “pop” noise is often thought of as a symptom of ankle sprains. While it can certainly be experienced, it is not a symptom in all cases.
What to Do
While many mild sprains can be treated well enough at home, it is always ideal to at least speak with a doctor in all cases. First, in some cases, it might be difficult to initially tell a sprain from a fracture. Second, even in mild cases, a sprain that does not heal properly or is stressed too soon before fully healing can lead to chronic pain, instability, and early arthritis in the joint.
If you believe you have sprained your ankle, stop any activity immediately. Keep the ankle elevated and apply ice to help reduce initial pain and swelling. If we believe you should come in, we will perform an exam, checking for tenderness and gently moving the joint to gauge your range of motion. In severe cases, we might call for an imaging test to get a better look at the ligaments or rule out the possibility of a fracture.
In most cases, conservative care will be enough to treat an ankle sprain. Rest will continue to be recommended, and equipment such as crutches, a brace, or a boot provided to keep the ankle more immobilized, if necessary. Once healed to a proper level, some movement and strengthening exercises may be recommended to help condition the joint back to full strength. If you participate in sports, this will definitely be considered as part of your plan.
In some severe cases, surgery might become an option. Many factors need to be taken into consideration at this point, such as age and lifestyle, and will be discussed in-depth with you on a case-by-case basis.
If an ankle sprain has popped in by surprise, Dr. Timothy Barry and the staff of Family Foot & Ankle Care of Jasper are here to help. Our office, across from IGA, is ready to serve all adult and children’s foot and ankle concerns. Call us at (812) 481-7200 our use our online form to contact us.