What Is a Sprained Ankle?
Ankle sprains are common musculoskeletal injuries that can occur from playing sports or from everyday activities. When the foot lands awkwardly, when the ground is uneven, or when an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint, an unnatural twisting motion of the ankle joint can occur resulting in tissue injury and inflammation of the ankle.
What Are Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle?
Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:
- Swelling (may be severe)
- Pain, especially when weight bearing
- Inability to bear weight on the ankle
- Redness and warmth
- Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury
- Limited range of motion
- Ankle stiffness
- Skin discoloration
What Causes a Sprained Ankle?
Sudden stretching that is more than normal can injure ligaments in the ankle and result in an ankle sprain. Some ways this unnatural twisting motion of the ankle joint can occur include:
- Foot lands awkwardly, such as when running, stepping up or down, or even during routine activities such as getting out of bed
- When the ground is uneven or there is an irregular surface, such as stepping in a hole or bump
- Sports where one player steps on another player, causing one player’s foot to roll inward
- When an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint
Inversion ankle sprain injuries, in which the foot rolls inward, are more common than eversion injuries (also called a high ankle sprain), in which the foot twists outward.
How Is a Sprained Ankle Diagnosed?
A sprained ankle is diagnosed with a physical exam of the ankle and foot.
Imaging tests may be needed to check for fracture or other serious injury, including:
An ankle sprain diagnosis is based on grades. Generally, the higher the grade, the more damage to the ligament.
- Grade I
- Only minor damage to the ligament
- No instability of the ankle joint
- Grade II
- Moderate to severe damage to the ligament
- Some slight instability but ankle function is intact
- Grade III
- Complete disruption of the ligament(s).
- Ankle is unstable and may require surgery
What Is the Treatment for a Sprained Ankle?
Treatment for a sprained ankle is usually aimed at helping reduce inflammation, which can help relieve pain and aid healing.
- Rest: may use a brace, splint, or crutches to take weight off the ankle
- Ice: helps decrease pain, swelling, and redness
- If done immediately after the injury, it may prevent some inflammation
- Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel
- Apply ice for 20 minutes at a time, several times daily
- Compression: helps support the ankle and prevent inflammation
- Use elastic wraps such as Ace bandages
- Do not wrap too tightly
- Elevation: keep the injured area propped up to help reduce fluid buildup in the injured tissue
- Try to prop the ankle above the level of the heart
Other home treatments for sprained ankle include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) and naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn) to reduce pain
Medical treatment for sprained ankle includes:
- Using a brace, cast, or walking boot to reduce motion of the ankle
- Crutches may be used to avoid putting weight on the injured ankle
- For severe pain, narcotics may be prescribed
Walking on a sprained ankle is not advised. After a sprain occurs, it needs time to heal before weight-bearing. Walking or weight bearing too soon may slow healing or cause further damage.
What Are Complications of a Sprained Ankle?
Complications of a sprained ankle include:
- Prolonged pain
- Persistent swelling
- Nerve dysfunction
How Do You Prevent a Sprained Ankle?
Sprained ankles are often accidents but it may be possible to prevent some occurrences:
- Wear the appropriate shoes for an activity
- Balance training
- Strength and flexibility exercises for the ankle
- Tape a weak ankle before participating in sports
- If you have recurrent sprains, an ankle brace may help
- Keep the home clear of obstacles that could cause injury
- Make sure a playing field is an even surface
- Treat risk factors for getting sprained ankles such as flat feet or bunions