Ankle Sprains: When Ligaments Go Beyond Limits

Ever use a rubber band so often that it gets stretched out, and eventually even breaks? Ligaments are just like that! They can stretch and return to their normal position over and over again, until one day they extend beyond their limits, lose their elasticity, and even tear. When this happens to the ligaments that hold your ankle bones and joint in place, you’ve got yourself a sprained ankle.

Ankle Sprains Aren’t Just for Athletes

Healthy ligaments in your ankle hold it all together and help you pivot, step, jump, and basically move around in all directions. Sometimes, however, you can twist, turn, or roll your ankle too far, forcing the ligaments beyond their normal range. Sure, this type of abnormal motion can commonly occur when participating in sports, but it can also happen by a simple misstep while walking – accidently stepping in a hole or on a large rock, not noticing a curb, or navigating across the street in high heels. The fact is, ankle sprains can happen to anyone at any time – and with a wide range of severity.

How Bad Is It?

There are different levels of damage that can occur when you twist your ankle, and the degree of severity is typically denoted by grades.

Grade 1: This is considered a minor sprain. Ligaments are slightly overstretched and you can still walk.

Grade 2: With this level of sprain, your ankle feels a little wobbly, ligaments have loosened and may have sustained partial tears.

Grade 3: The most severe degree of an ankle sprain, this involves a complete tear and instability.

Symptoms vary, depending on the grade of your sprain, but often include pain, swelling, bruising, difficulty bearing weight, and sometimes stiffness in the joint. If you hear a popping sound, that’s a sure sign of a severe sprain.

Skipping Sprained Ankle Treatment Can Mean Chronic Problems

No matter how minor or severe, ankle sprains need treatment. Without proper care, your injury may heal incorrectly, weakening your ankle and making it prone to more sprains in the future. It is a vicious cycle – stop it before it starts!

RICE is your first line of defense. Rest your ankle, ice it in 20-minute increments, apply compression by wrapping your ankle with an elastic bandage, and elevate it above heart-level. Following this regimen will help reduce pain and swelling and encourage the healing process.

An X-ray or MRI will be needed to determine the damage and grade of severity. The RICE method along with anti-inflammatory medication is often all that is needed for a minor, grade 1 sprain. A grade 2 injury may also need an immobilizing splint or boot. Severe, grade 3 sprains will likely involve casting, and in rare cases, surgery may need to be performed.

Physical therapy following recovery (which can take about a month) will help to restore strength, flexibility, range of motion and function. Remember, strong ankles are less likely to sprain!

Anti-Ankle Sprain Tips

Do regular strengthening exercises for your ankles
Wear supportive shoes, appropriate for activities
Avoid uneven terrain
Be aware of your surroundings
Keep high heels to a minimum

If you do twist your ankle, don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can reach our Austin, TX office by dialing (512) 328-8900. We’re here and happy to help!

Dr. Craig H. Thomajan, DPM, FACFAS, FAENS
Founder and Managing Partner of Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists