It's likely you or someone you know has experienced a sprained ankle—about 28,000 occur each day. Spraining or "twisting" your ankle can happen on a sports field, on the playground or just during a casual walk. It can happen any time you step down at an angle or on an uneven surface.
Your ankle is made up of bones, ligaments and a joint. The ligaments are elastic structures that protect your ankle joint by stretching when your foot twists, turns or rolls. A sprain occurs when the ligaments are stretched beyond their normal limits.
Many sprains aren’t very serious. In fact, there are three types of sprain: Grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3. All three sprains can be initially treated with the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression (with an Ace wrap) and Elevation.
A grade 1 sprain denotes slight stretching and some ligament fiber damage. Typical treatment would include weight bearing as tolerated on the ankle and rehabilitation may include performing some stretching/strengthening exercises. A grade 2 sprain indicates potential tearing of the ligament. This type of sprain is more severe and may require medical treatment. A grade 3 sprain is the most severe and occurs when the ligament tears completely. Treatment may be similar to that of a grade 2 sprain, but usually requires longer immobilization and treatments. The severity of the injury may even require surgical repair or reconstruction.
The best way to avoid spraining your ankle is to participate in exercises that maintain or improve your muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Here are some ways to do so:
- Stretch before and after exercising or participating in vigorous activities
- Be careful and aware of your surroundings when walking or running
- Wear proper high-quality shoes during exercise
- Don’t push your body past its natural limits when exercising
If you feel you may have sprained your ankle, don’t just “walk it off,” since ignoring this injury could lead to long-term discomfort, reinjury, chronic disability and arthritis. Visit your healthcare provider to confirm you have a sprained ankle, since sprains and breaks can have similar symptoms. For that reason, your foot and/or ankle may need to be X-rayed. However, there’s a chance your provider can diagnose the severity of your sprain based on an evaluation of any swelling, bruising and tenderness you may have.
If your healthcare provider suspects a more ankle serious injury, they may order an MRI scan to help inform their diagnosis.
Learn more about the importance of warming up before exercise to avoid common injuries on the Goshen Health blog.