Your ankle is one of the most important joints in your body. It’s also one of the most susceptible to injury.
The ankle supports most of your body weight – which is why ankle sprains are quite common injuries. In fact, there’s a good chance that you’ll sustain an ankle sprain at some point in your life.
It can happen when playing as a child, or when stepping on an uneven surface as an adult. All it takes is one awkward movement to lose your balance and sprain your ankle slightly, which causes pain that eventually fades away.
However, it’s when you sprain your ankle more severely that it might swell and hurt too much for you to stand or walk on it. When that happens, it means one or more ligaments of your ankle have been stretched or torn and, if not properly treated, could cause you long-term problems.
How Can I Tell if I’ve Sprained My Ankle?
It can be hard to distinguish whether you’ve sprained your ankle or fractured a bone. Either can make you unable to bear weight on the injured ankle – which is why it’s important to seek medical attention so that an X-ray can be taken to confirm the injury and proper treatment administered to prevent chronic pain and instability.
Pain along the inner side of the ankle typically represents a more serious injury to your tendons or the ligaments that support the arch of your foot.
For a mild sprain, your doctor will likely advise you to follow the R.I.C.E. guidelines:
- Rest your ankle by not walking on it and limiting weight bearing.
- Ice your ankle to reduce the swelling.
- Compression to control swelling and immobilize and support your injury.
- Elevate your foot to prop it up above your waist.
This technique helps reduce pain and swelling within a few days.
For a moderate or severe sprain, your doctor may immobilize or splint your sprained ankle in addition to recommending the R.I.C.E. guidelines, allowing your ankle more time to heal.
Since a severe sprain puts you at greater risk of developing permanent ankle instability, your doctor may have you wear a walking boot, or a short leg cast, for a few weeks. In rare cases – such as when you sprain your ankle repeatedly – surgical repair may be needed to tighten your ligaments.
Rehabilitation for a Sprained Ankle
Regardless of the degree of injury, every ankle sprain needs rehabilitation to heal completely and to avoid reinjury. The three phases of rehabilitation include:
- Rest, protection, and reduction of swelling
- Restoring the strength, flexibility, and range of motion of the ankle
- A gradual return to normal activity along with maintenance exercises
By adhering to a rehabilitation program, you’ll not only make it less likely that you’ll injure the same ankle again, but you’ll also avoid chronic pain, instability, and arthritis in the ankle. However, if your ankle still hurts after treatment, it could mean the sprained ligament has not healed properly or that some other injury has occurred.