Healthy You - Every Day

Sprained Ankles Need Attention

Frequent ankle sprains can lead to greater problems in time

Sprained ankle

Sprained ankles are among the most common injuries seen in doctor offices and emergency departments every day.

“When you sprain an ankle, one or more ligaments of your ankle become stretched or torn,” says orthopedic surgeon Shawn Bifano, MD, with Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute.  “Ankle sprains most often happen when your toes are on the ground but your heel is up, and you are walking on an uneven surface. Your ankle can turn inward, damaging the ligaments.”

Ligaments of the ankle provide mechanical stability, allow motion of the joint and provide a sense of where your ankle joint is. “The most commonly sprained ligaments are those on the outside of the ankle, on the side farthest from the other ankle,” Bifano says. “But it’s also possible to sprain the ligaments on the inside of the ankle.”

If you think you’ve sprained your ankle, see your doctor or clinician. Although in many cases X-rays aren’t necessary, your doctor may decide that you need one to make sure you don’t have a fracture and to determine a treatment plan.

Frequent sprains can lead to arthritis, tendon injury and an ankle that gives way easily.

“The first step in rehabilitation is to rest the ankle, protecting it from further injury, and reduce swelling by following RICE.” - Shawn Bifano, MD

Your doctor or clinician may advise you to:

  • Immobilize the ankle with a splint
  • Use the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method
  • Let the ankle bear weight as best you can, using crutches
  • Move the ankle a bit with your doctor’s guidance
  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines

In severe cases, you may need a cast or a boot on your foot and ankle.

“Your doctor may advise you to wear an ankle brace for a few months, especially during a high-risk activity like playing basketball or volleyball, hiking or just climbing stairs,” Bifano says.

Recovery after a sprain

Whatever the severity of the sprain, the ankle needs time to recover. “The first step in rehabilitation is to rest the ankle, protecting it from further injury, and reduce swelling by following RICE,” Bifano says. The next step is to make muscles and ligaments stronger and to restore range of motion. The last step involves activities that move the foot in a straight line, followed later by side-to-side movements.

If you sprain your ankle, it’s important to follow through with rehabilitation to prevent further injury. Once your ankle is fully recovered, work to keep your ankle in good shape with flexibility and strengthening exercises.

Ankle exercise

When your ankle feels more stable, ask your doctor or physical therapist about this exercise:

Stand on both legs. Brace yourself with one hand. Lift the uninjured leg off the ground by bending your knee. Do this for 60 seconds with your eyes closed. Switch sides and repeat until it’s just as easy on both sides. Then increase the time. This helps make your ankle stronger and may help prevent future injuries.

If you or someone you know has an ankle sprain, be seen immediately by an orthopedic expert at one of our walk-in orthopedic Injury Centers.

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