Contrary to popular belief, ankle sprains are not exclusively sustained by athletes. Whereas individuals who regularly perform physical activities have an increased risk factor for injury, ankles are essential for movement. This means anyone can, and likely will, sprain an ankle at some point in his or her life. Understanding this ailment can help you take steps to prevent it and know when to come see us at The Kansas Foot Center for effective ankle sprain treatment.
Ankle Anatomy and Sprains
One of the most valuable joints in your entire body—especially when it comes to mobility and independence—the ankle is constructed of bones and ligaments that allow you to move your foot. The three bones forming an ankle are your two lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula) and your talus (ankle bone).
Your ankle bone sits directly on top of the heel bone, and where the two bones meet is the subtalar joint. This joint enables your foot to move from side to side. The fibula and tibia both rest upon the talus and this forms the true ankle joint, which provides up and down foot movement. The bones are held in their respective places by several ligaments.
Ankle sprains often happen when a foot has been planted and then is injured due to a sudden shifting movement. One common example, seen frequently in sports, is when an athlete makes an abrupt change in direction and the planted foot twists beyond its intended range. Outside of athletic events, this injury also happens when the position of a curb or step is misjudged. If half of a foot extends over the edge, and body weight then pushes down upon it, the foot can roll inward while the ankle rolls outward. This causes ligaments in the joint to stretch excessively and potentially tear.
At the time an ankle sprain occurs, pain is usually experienced immediately. Swelling begins right away and you may observe bruising as well. Your injured ankle will likely be tender to touch and the pain will increase when it moves. If your sprain is particularly severe, it can even be difficult to simply place weight on the injured foot.
Treatment for Ankle Sprains
When it comes to treating an ankle sprain, the RICE method is the best place to start:
- Rest – Your body will start its natural healing processes almost immediately, but it still needs time and rest for optimal recovery. You will need to take time away from physical activities and keep bodyweight off the injured foot to prevent additional damage from happening to the ligaments.
- Ice – To alleviate swelling, promote circulation, and decrease pain, be sure to ice the affected ankle every one or two hours. To do this, apply an ice pack covered with a thin towel or cloth (to protect your skin) for 10-20 minutes at time. Keep repeating this routine for the first 24 to 72 hours after the injury or until swelling has subsided.
- Compression – Another way to promote blood flow, which is essential for your body’s internal healing processes, is to use a compression wrap. This can be especially beneficial during the first 24 to 36 hours, but remember this is to encourage circulation, and not provide protection so you can resume normal activities.
- Elevation – You can further decrease swelling and bruising in the area by keeping the injured ankle raised above heart level for a couple of hours every day. The best practice for this is to lie down on your couch or bed with the foot propped up on a couple of pillows. This also should be done at night, so your ankle remains elevated while you sleep.
Begin the RICE protocol as soon as possible following the injury. At the very least, start by staying away from any intense physical activity. Being active, or returning to sports or working out before the injury is healed completely, can potentially cause long-term instability in the ankle. This makes future injuries more likely and frequent.
In the event you sustain a severe ankle sprain, or are having recurrent issues, come see us at The Kansas Foot Center. Call us at (316) 283-4330 for additional information or to set up a visit. You can also use our online form to request your appointment with any of our Wichita, Emporia, or Newton, KS offices right now.