Ankle sprains are injuries resulting from stretching, or partly or completely tearing one or more ligaments holding the ankle joint together. Ligaments are bands of strong, flexible fibers connecting bones. Tendons connect muscles and bones. Ankle sprains are common, especially in sports such as basketball and soccer.
Sprains occur when the joint is forced to bend more than normal, thus hurting ligaments. The most common type occurs when the foot turns in (called inversion), and full body weight comes down on the ankle. The foot can also turn too far out (called eversion).
Popping or tearing is felt at the time of injury. Pain occurs during the injury and after, when walking or moving the ankle. The ankle may swell and feel stiff. The skin around the ankle may be bruised.
With severe injuries, extreme pain makes weight bearing and moving the ankle hard. Tingling or numbness in the foot may mean nerve or blood vessel damage.
The health care provider will ask about the accident and examine the ankle by moving it to check ligaments and tendons.
For a minor sprain, no more tests are needed. For a severe sprain, the health care provider may order x-rays. Additional tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done if pain persists and x-rays are inconclusive.
Ice is applied immediately, because swelling starts quickly. The ankle is rested, which may mean using crutches. Walking is kept to a minimum. A compression wrap or splint is put on the ankle. The ankle is elevated above hip level. Remember these by thinking “RICE” (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). A compression wrap, splint, or brace lets the ankle move without injury. Never use heat before 72 hours after the injury (causes more swelling).
Physical therapy can strengthen muscles, help recovery, and help prevent more injuries.
Over-the-counter antiinflammatory medications (ibuprofen) can be taken to decrease swelling and provide pain relief.
Severe sprains may need surgery and physical therapy.
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