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In this article we will talk about ankle sprain treatment and causes. Let’s start with some the basics of ankle injuries. Ankle injuries are defined by the kind of tissue — bone, ligament, or tendon — that is damaged. The ankle is where three bones meet, the tibia and fibula of your lower leg with the talus of your foot. Bones are held together at the ankle joint by ligaments, which are strong elastic bands of connective tissue that keep the bones in place while allowing normal ankle motion. Tendons attach muscles to the bones to do the work of making the ankle and foot move, and help keep the joints stable. Therefore, ankle injuries most commonly caused by: sprain (damage to a ligament), fracture and tendon strain.
Ankle sprains and strains essentially share the same causes and treatments, that is why many people do not know the difference between sprains and strains. To simplify this article we will focus on ankle sprain.
A sprain is the term that describes damage to ligaments when they are stretched beyond their normal range of motion. Often the ankle rolls outward and the foot turns inward. This causes the ligaments on the outside of the ankle to stretch and tear. Less often, the ankle rolls inward and the foot turns outward. This damages the ligaments on the inside of the ankle.
Depending on how badly the ligament is damaged and how many ligaments are injured, an ankle sprain can range from mild to severe, and will be classified as Grade I, II or III. Proper treatment and rehabilitation (rehab) exercises for ankle sprain are as follows.
Ankle Sprain Treatment
- For a Grade I ankle sprain, follow the R.I.C.E. guidelines:
- Rest: Rest your ankle by not walking on it. Limit weight bearing. Use crutches if necessary; if there is no fracture you are safe to put some weight on the leg. An ankle brace often helps control swelling and adds stability while the ligaments are healing.
- Ice: Apply ice immediately after spraining your ankle. Use an ice pack* to help slow or reduce the swelling within 48 hours of an injury, and repeat as needed. Don’t put ice directly on the skin and don’t ice more than 20 minutes at a time to avoid frost bite.
- Compression: Wrapping the injured ankle with an elastic ankle brace* or off-the-shelf compression wrap will help keep it immobile and supported. Be sure not to wrap the ankle too tightly.
- Elevate: Elevating the injured ankle to at least the level of your heart will reduce swelling and pain.
- For a Grade II ankle sprain, follow the R.I.C.E. guidelines and allow more time for healing. A doctor may immobilize or splint your sprained ankle.
- A Grade III ankle sprain puts you at risk for permanent ankle instability. Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair the damage, especially in competitive athletes. For severe ankle sprain, your doctor may also consider treating you with a short leg cast for two to three weeks or a walking boot. People who sprain their ankle repeatedly may also need surgical repair to tighten their ligaments.
Rehabilitation is also essential to ankle sprain treatment. Otherwise, your sprained ankle might not heal completely and you might re-injure it. All ankle sprains, from mild to severe, require three phases of recovery:
- Phase I includes resting, protecting and reducing swelling of your injured ankle.
- Phase II includes restoring your ankle’s flexibility, range of motion and strength.
- Phase III includes gradually returning to straight-ahead activity and doing maintenance exercises, followed later by more cutting sports such as tennis, basketball or football.
Once you can stand on your ankle again, your doctor will prescribe exercise routines to strengthen your muscles and ligaments and increase your flexibility, balance and coordination. We will talk about stretching and strengthening your ankle after a sprain in our next article!