You’ve heard the expression bend, but don’t break? That’s exactly what happens to the ankle when it is sprained. When an ankle is sprained, the body makes an unnatural twisting motion, causing unusual force on the joint. Ankle sprains are common sports injuries. The ankle has three bones that are held together by tendons and ligaments. A sprain occurs when the ligament thatconnects the bones is stressed, causing it to stretch or tear, usually during a sudden movement. But sprains can happen during a simple stroll or even stepping out of the tub the wrong way. Most sprains are caused when the foot rolls inward, which is called an inversion injury.
Symptoms and Treatment
The symptoms of a sprain are similar to that of a break–swelling, bruising and pain. The main difference is that someone with a sprained ankle can walk on it or move it, even if it’s very painful. Although it sometimes requires an x-ray to determine whether there is a small fracture, the ability to walk on the foot usually means it is not broken. However, it is possible to both sprain and break your ankle at the same time!
Proper treatment is important to avoid repeat injuries or chronic ankle problems. Many sprains can be cared for at home using the RICE method. RICEstands for:
- Rest: Don’t move the injured ankle more than necessary.
- Ice: Cold restricts blood flow and prevents much of the swelling if used quickly following the sprain. Apply ice (wrapped in a towel) for up to 20 minutes and then rest for 30 minutes.
- Compression: Wrap the joint in an Ace bandage to keep it steady. Take care not to wrap too tightly.
- Elevation: Prop the ankle so it is ideally above the level of your heart. This helps the body reabsorb the fluid in the tissue.
If you do end up at the doctor’s office, you can expect to have your ankle wrapped in a brace or even a cast to limit motion. Crutches can help you get around without putting weight on the injured ankle. Anti-inflammatory pain medication like ibuprofen or naproxen will help reduce pain and swelling. Head to the doctor or ER immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Uncontrolled pain, even after taking over the counter medication.
- Inability to walk more than a few steps or move the ankle.
- Worsening symptoms or pain that does not start to improve within 5 days.
- Loss of feeling in the toes or foot.
- Pain in the leg.
- Red streaks spreading from the injured area.
A word about prevention: Everything from wearing shoes with the right support to working on your balance can help prevent injury. If you have balance problems or don’t get much exercise, work with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles around the ankle. High-top sneakers are more than just a fashion statement; they can help hold your foot more securely. Taping a weak ankle is also a good idea when playing sports.
For more information on orthopedic injuries or pain, contact us at St. Petersburg General Hospital. Call Consult-A-Nurse®at 727-341-4055 to speak with a registered nurse for answers to your health questions and free physician referrals.