Some things are made to twist. Bottle caps, door handles, and steering wheels all rotate easily. All of these things, however, are only meant to twist in certain ways. Try to force them to go the wrong direction or too far, and you may break something. That’s the issue with ankle sprains. Ankles are meant to twist to a certain point—but go past that and you damage your lower limbs.
The Point of Damage
Ankle sprains are a common injury for active people, but they can happen to anyone. Your ankle is made up of three bones and many supporting ligaments. These ligaments hold the bones—the talus and the ends of the tibia and fibula from your lower leg—in the correct places so the whole joint is stable. A sudden twist can over-stretch these connectors, making them painfully loose and less effective. If the damage is severe enough, the tissue might even tear.
When this happens, the pain is immediate. You may still be able to put weight on the affected limb and walk around, but a severe sprain will prevent this. Your joint will swell and possibly bruise. Your ankle will feel stiff and have difficulty moving. At the same time, the joint will be somewhat unstable, so trying to push off the ground may cause it to give out underneath you.
The Extent of the Problem
Like many traumatic injuries, ankle sprains have a range of severity. Mild sprains are a small over-stretching of one or more of the ankle’s supporting ligaments. Your ankle will feel sore and weak, but should recover fairly quickly with the right care. A medium injury is a more serious over-stretching of the connective tissues. You may have partial tearing in the ligament fibers and more swelling. This creates greater instability in the joint and will take longer to heal. A severe sprain involves significant damage to the ligaments. One or more may be completely ruptured, resulting in significant pain, swelling, and sometimes bruising. Your ankle will be very weak; most likely you’ll be unable to walk. This takes a while to heal completely and allow a return to your activities without reinjuring yourself.
What to Expect for Treatment
Whether your sprained ankle is mild or severe, you need to invest in the proper care. Otherwise your ligaments may not heal correctly, leading to chronically unstable ankles. A little care, however, can go a long way in restoring your joints to full strength. Dr. Brandon S. Percival, Dr. Julie A. Percival, and Dr. William Harris will examine your ankles carefully to determine the severity of the damage. Our staff may use diagnostic images and other tests to rule out other injuries. Then we’ll begin helping you on the path to recovery.
First and foremost, your ankle needs rest to allow the ligaments to heal. Take a break from all hard impact activities—and in some cases, consider avoiding all weight-bearing on the affected foot. Ice the ankle to help lower the swelling and inflammation. Wrap the joint in a compression bandage and keep your foot elevated to discourage edema as well. If your foot is unstable, you may need to wear a brace to immobilize the limb so motion doesn’t aggravate the condition. We may recommend anti-inflammatory medications to help with the pain as well. When the ankle has healed, you’ll need physical therapy to help restore your range of motion and stabilize the joint again. Ankles that don’t respond to these conservative therapies many need surgery to repair the damage.
Sprains can be more serious than they appear at first. The injury can lead to long-term pain and instability if it isn’t properly managed, either. Don’t wait to develop chronic pain to seek help. Contact Carolina Podiatry Group to manage the condition. Just use the website or call—(803) 548-FEET in Indian Land, or (803) 285-1411 in Lancaster—to make an appointment at one of our South Carolina offices.