Understanding Ankle Pain and Ankle Sprain
Our foot and ankle support our body and keep us mobile on a day to day basis. Our ankle joints, in particular, are highly vulnerable to acute injury. Ankle pain is often due to an ankle sprain but can also be caused by ankle instability, arthritis, tendonitis, nerve compression (tarsal tunnel syndrome), fracture, infection and poor structural alignment of the lower limb. Ankle pain can be associated with swelling, stiffness, redness, and warmth in the involved area. The pain is often described as an intense dull ache that occurs upon weight bearing and ankle motion.
For most ankle pain, the initial treatment usually consists of rest, ice, elevation, immobilization, use of supportive footwear, braces, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. A podiatrist will be able to help to accurately diagnose the cause of the pain and tailor a treatment plan to manage it. Contact your local podiatrist here.
What is an ankle sprain?
Since ankle sprain is considered the most common cause of ankle pain, let’s learn more about it. An ankle sprain is an injury that causes a stretch or tear of one or more ligaments in the ankle joint. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue, like rubber bands that connect one bone to another and bind the joints together. In the ankle joint, ligaments provide stability by limiting side to side movement.
Ankle sprains may be graded I, II or III depending on their severity. The severity of an ankle sprain depends on whether the ligaments are stretched, partially torn, or completely torn as well as on the number of ligaments involved. Most sprains occur on the outside part of the ankle, but they can occur on the inside as well.
How does ankle sprain occur?
Sprained ankles commonly happen while participating in sports, wearing inappropriate shoes, or walking on an uneven surface. It is often a result of a fall, a sudden twist, or a blow that forces the ankle joint out of its normal position. Sometimes ankle sprains occur because a person is born with weak ankles. Previous ankle or foot injuries can also weaken the ankle, lead to ankle instability and sprains.
What are the symptoms of ankle sprains?
The symptoms of ankle sprains is common to that of ankle pain. They generally include:
Mild aching to sudden pain
Difficulty in weight bearing and move the ankle properly
Stiffness in the joint
At times, pain in the ankle even when you are not putting any weight on it
The symptoms may vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain. It is crucial to note though that pain and swelling can sometimes absent in people with previous ankle sprains. They may usually experience a sense of wobbly and unsteady in their ankle when their walk.
Any ankle sprain, whether with pain or swelling associated requires care as:
an untreated ankle sprain may lead to chronic ankle instability, which is a condition marked by persistent discomfort and a “giving way” of the ankle that can cause weakness in the leg.
a more severe ankle injury may have occurred along with the sprain. This might include a serious bone fracture that, if left untreated, could lead to troubling complications.
an ankle sprain may be accompanied by a foot injury that causes discomfort but has gone unnoticed thus far.
rehabilitation of a sprained ankle needs to begin right away to improve healing outcome.
How is ankle sprains treated?
A common treatment for ankle sprains include:
Rest. Stay off the injured ankle as weight-bearing may cause further injury. Crutches can be used until you can walk without pain.
Ice. Applying ice packs to your ankle, placing a thin towel between the ice and the skin for 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for the first 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. Thereafter, ice your ankle at least once a day until the other symptoms are gone.
Compression. Wrapping an elastic bandage around your ankle can assist the swelling from getting worse.
Elevation. Elevating your ankle by placing a pillow underneath your foot. The ankle should be raised slightly above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.
Early physical therapy. Doing early rehabilitation and ankle exercises can promote healing and improve your ankle strength and range of motion. The exercises will help you to return to your normal activity and sports.
Medications. Taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can be helpful in reducing all relevant symptoms.
Surgery. In more severe cases where there is complete tearing of the ankle ligaments, surgery may be required.