Ankle sprains are common injuries that, while in most cases aren't very serious, can nonetheless cause a serious amount of pain or discomfort. With proper treatment, an ankle sprain will typically heal within a few weeks, although, depending on the severity, some of these injuries can take up to several months to completely heal.
What Causes an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain is caused when the ligaments that connect the foot to the leg bones become injured. This usually occurs when the ankle has been twisted or turned awkwardly and the ligaments, which are tough bands of tissue, become torn or stretched beyond their normal limits.
The ligaments connecting your foot to your leg bones have a specific range of motion that allows the ankle joint to be relatively stable – more so than most other joints in the body. This stability is required in order to sustain the amount of impact the weight of your body forces on the ankles when you're walking, running, jumping, etc.
When subjected to high-impact activities, if the ankle twists or turns beyond its normal range of motion the ligaments that are responsible for providing ankle stability can be painfully torn or stretched, causing what's called a sprain. Some common examples of activities that may result in an ankle sprain include sports such as football or basketball where you may need to quickly change direction at high speed. Something as simple as walking off a curb without knowing it's there can also result in a painful ankle injury that may take weeks (or even months) to heal.
Who's Most at Risk?
Ankle sprains can happen to anyone, young or old. It's estimated that tens of thousands of individuals sprain an ankle each day in the U.S. Most at risk are athletes, but a sprain can occur when walking on uneven surfaces or even from wearing the wrong footwear for a certain activity.
It's recommended that you see a doctor when you sprain your ankle so he or she can diagnose the severity of the injury and recommend an appropriate course of treatment. Here are some indications that you may have sprained an ankle:
- Skin discoloration
- Inability to put your weight on your ankle
There are a number of injuries that can affect your ankles. Your doctor can determine if you're suffering from a sprain, a strain (which is something different entirely) or something even more serious.
Your doctor will likely do a physical examination first, moving your ankle in various ways and checking its range of motion, and may order other tests such as an X-ray and/or MRI. These may be done to rule out a fracture and to uncover any serious damage to the ligaments or ankle joint surface.
Proper treatment of a sprained ankle will promote healing and help diminish discomfort. It's important that, while recovering, you refrain from putting any weight on the affected ankle. You will likely need crutches to aid in your mobility during the recovery period. Here are some tips to help aid in effective home treatment of your injury:
- Wrap your ankle (though not too tightly) in an elastic bandage
- Wear a supportive brace on your ankle or other foot orthotics for support
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed
- Keep your affected foot elevated when sitting or lying down
- Get lots of rest
- Stay off your injured ankle
- Apply ice to the affected area every three to four hours during the first two or
three days of your recuperation
Long Term Prognosis
Most ankle sprains aren't very serious and will heal completely within a few weeks. Even after the pain and swelling have disappeared, however, your ankle will probably not be as stable as it was before for some time. It's recommended that you not return to activities that may again stress the ankle until your doctor gives you the all clear. The doctor may give you certain exercises designed to help strengthen the affected ankle. These will help in getting your ankle back to normal as soon as possible.
Preventing Future Ankle Injuries
Once you've suffered a sprained ankle, the likelihood of re-injuring that same ankle increases, even after the original sprain has been completely healed. There are some things you can do to make re-injury less likely and you may want to consider some or all of these tips:
- Regularly perform ankle strengthening exercises
- Wrap your ankle in an elastic bandage or wear a stabilizing brace, especially involved in activities that risk future sprains
- Slow down or stop engaging in sports activities when you become fatigued
- Wear quality, sturdy footwear, avoiding the use of high-heeled shoes when possible
- Using orthotics to stabilize ankle
- Pay mind to the surfaces you're walking or running on
- Thoroughly warm up before engaging in any exercise
Contact your doctor immediately if you fear you've re-sprained your ankle. Forgoing treatment can result in long-term pain and ankle instability.
The use of orthotics to prevent chronic ankle sprains
If you’re prone to ankle sprains, odds are that the footwear that your wearing is not giving your ankle the support and stability that it needs. One of the most effective ways to get that support back is with the use of orthotics or ankle braces in everyday wear. Not only do they allow you to turn any shoe into a supportive one, but orthotics have been shown to increase ankle stability.
How do I know which orthotic to use?
When using orthotics, it’s important to remember that the foot mechanics of each person differs. In addition, your ankle sprain may be caused by something different than the next person. The best way to effectively choose the right orthotic for you is to find orthotics that fit your foot shape and reduce pressure in the ankle joint. Not sure what orthotic is right for you? Check out ECLO’s custom application that lets you scan your foot with an iphone to curate an orthotic for your specific foot shape.