A sprained ankle is a common injury, particularly among people playing sports such as tennis or football. However, it can happen to anyone, for example while wearing heels or simply stepping on an uneven surface.
Some patients report hearing a “popping” sound coming from their ankle at the time of injury.
The symptoms will appear immediately after you have twisted your ankle. Your ankle will become suddenly painful and may also become inflamed, bruised and swollen.
The pain from a sprained ankle comes from the ligaments. From the patient’s perspective, the pain can be similar to the one felt from a broken bone.
It is therefore important to see a doctor and establish whether the source of the pain is a ligament or a bone injury before starting the treatment. X-rays may be recommended to rule out any bone fracture.
If an ankle sprain is severe enough, or if it is not treated properly, your ankle could become chronically unstable. Ankle instability, on top of being uncomfortable, puts you at a higher risk of getting additional ankle sprains.
A sprained ankle is caused by a rapid twist of the ankle. This results in one or more of the ligaments surrounding your ankle being torn or stretched. This damage in the ligaments is what causes the pain of ankle sprains.
This normally happens because you have put excessive force on your ankle joint, for instance if you were walking or running on an uneven surface. Some sports or activities requiring you to move your legs and feet sideways such as tennis or basketball may put you at an even greater risk of spraining your ankle. Nevertheless any day-to-day activity can cause an ankle sprain if the foot is misplaced and the ankle is twisted.
In the vast majority of cases the twist causing an ankle sprain will be inward, which will cause the ligament damage on the outer side of the ankle.
In some cases, a high ankle sprain (where ligaments holding the tibia and fibula together are damaged) can occur, most commonly when the ankle twist is outwards.
The pain of a sprained ankle can vary greatly depending on the severity of damage to the ligaments. When you sprain your ankle, small blood vessels will also be damaged and will leak in the area. This will cause your ankle to swell up, bruise and become inflamed. The nerves in the area will also become more sensitive.
Most ankle sprains can be treated at home using the RICE Formula: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
It is important to rest and avoid putting any pressure on the affected area. A cast is generally not needed, but an ankle brace is advised. Applying ice regularly, particularly for the first two to three days after the accident occurred, will help reduce the inflammation and swelling. It will also help with the pain. Compression by wearing a bandage or a protective support aims to control swelling. The compression should be tight, but it should still allow blood to flow into the foot and ankle. Finally, keeping your foot elevated as often as possible will also avoid further swelling.
Your doctor will also explain how to use your ankle as it heals, and teach you exercises to strengthen it and prevent it from becoming stiff.
You may also be prescribed anti-inflammatories and pain relief medicine. Finally, surgery may also be an option in some cases, particularly if you experience on-going problems with your ankle.
It is important to be diligent when recovering from a sprained ankle, and to be patient to ensure that it is properly recovered. If you return to full physical activity too soon after you have sprained your ankle, even if you no longer feel pain, you are putting yourself at risk of spraining it again or even causing ankle instability.