Ankle sprains: causes, symptoms, treatment
Feet injuries are pretty common, especially when intense physical activity is involved. Ankle sprains are one of the most common foot injuries and while an isolated incident can be considered a minor case, ankle sprains can and will evolve into complications if not treated and prevented effectively.
What is an ankle sprain?
Ankle sprain is when the muscles and ligaments on the ankle gets stretched or torn, causing swelling, pain and limited range of motion on the affected part. It is caused when rapid movement forcing the foot to turn inward (or in some cases, outwards) with the ankle being rotated to the opposite direction such as during sports, intense physical activity or sudden lack of balance.
The type of ankle sprain you can have depends on the severity of the damage on the ligaments. Mild sprains may cause swelling, pain and stiffness but is still quite stable and can be used to walk. Moderately serious ankle sprains are noticeably more inflamed, more painful to stand and walk on and may have evident bruising. Severe sprains on the other hand cause such extensive damage on the ligaments that the affected part may feel too painful, swollen and unstable to support the body properly.
Signs and symptoms of ankle sprains
Symptoms of ankle sprains tend to localize in the area of damage. The more severe the damage, the more signs and symptoms you can expect for ankle sprains.
Mild sprains usually show light to moderate pain, swelling can immediately occur and the area becomes tender and painful to touch or move. Moderate sprains are a bit more painful and may also manifest bruising and even bigger swelling. Patients experiencing severe sprains usually hear or feel a tear, a popping joint or a snap before the injury occurs. Also the area becomes so inflamed, swollen and painful that the affected leg is rendered unusable.
How to treat an ankle sprain
The aims for managing ankle sprains are to help restore limb function and mobility to normal, minimize inflammation and pain, and to prevent further or future injuries that can lead to complications.
For first aid and up to the first 72 hours, the acronym PRICE is an important guide in immediate management.
Protect: Keep the affected limb steady and well supported during the healing process. Using elastic bandage on the area and wearing protective shoes can help.
Rest: Avoid adding additional stress in the affected ankle for at least two to three days. Give ample times of bed rest to the injured leg or use crutches and ask for assistance to avoid having to use the sprained ankle for moving around.
Ice: During the first two days, using ice or cold compress is essential to reduce the swelling, redness and bruising as well as to relieve pain. Use a cold compress, ice bag or frozen peas over the area for no more than 15 minutes with periodical assessment of the area for any changes.
Elevation: Another way to reduce blood flow and thus minimize inflammation is by raising the affected limb. Keep your foot raised to at least on foot level while sitting down and use pillows to support the ankle if you’re lying down.
Also avoid massaging the area, applying heat and overexerting the sprain. Further and repeated damage to the injured ankle can cause long-term weakness and chronic, severe joint pain.