An ankle sprain is a sudden sideways motion, a twist, or a misstep. When your foot lands off-balance, muscles may give way, allowing the ankle joint to move too far. If ligaments connecting the foot and ankle bones overstretch or tear, a sprain is the result. These sudden injuries are painful, both at the time they occur, and throughout the healing process. The healing process may last several weeks. Swelling and bruising may extend from your ankle into your foot. With proper care, however, sprains can heal correctly, and in many cases, you can reduce the risk of re-injury. Sprains are commonly associated with foot and ankle fractures.
Your physician will examine your foot and ankle, feeling for ligaments, tendons, bones or joints to make sure they are not damaged. Ankle x-rays may be taken to rule out a fracture or dislocation. Treatment may range from pain control to immobilization of the joint. If the sprain is severe, or if a bone is damaged, surgery may be needed to assure proper healing. If the pain lasts longer than it normally should, an MRI may be ordered.
For a sprain, a few days of home care will help speed up healing. Remember, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) will help reduce pain and swelling.
Rest the sprained ankle. Do not stand on it for a few days. Ice the area by applying ice for 20 minutes, then remove the cold pack for 20 minutes. Repeat this process. Protect the skin from getting frostbite by placing a cloth between the ice and skin.
Compress the ankle by wrapping it with an elastic or Ace type bandage. Elevate the sprained ankle above the level of your heart.
If the damage or pain is severe, your doctor may splint, or cast the sprain. Once the ankle is immobilized, the torn tissues can rest and have a better chance to heal in proper position.
In some cases, a sprain may completely tear a ligament, fracture a bone or tear a tendon. These type of injuries may require surgery. After surgery, your foot will be immobilized to insure proper healing.
After your ankle has healed properly, special exercises may help strengthen your ankle to prevent re-injury. Proper shoe gear with a light brace may be helpful, especially when walking or running.