The sudden sharp pain and the disorienting feeling of an ankle rolling from under you can be an athlete’s nightmare. While a rolled ankle can sometimes be no big deal, a sprained ankle can lead to real pain and significant recovery time. Ankle sprains are usually caused by a quick shift in movement when the foot is planted. In this scenario, the ankle rolls outward while the foot turns inward, causing the ligaments on the outer ankle to stretch and tear. Whether on the sports field or in your own back yard, if you’ve sprained an ankle, chances are you’ll know by the pain and swelling, but telling the difference between different types of sprains can help you properly treat the situation.
There are different types of ankle sprains ranging from mild to severe depending on how much damage is done to the ligament and how many ligaments are hurt. A Grade I sprain happens when the ligaments are stretched. This mild injury can be fixed with adequate rest and proper application of ice and compression. A Grade II sprain means the ligaments are partially torn. For this type of injury you might need a splint or cast. The most severe sprain, a Grade III sprain, fully tears the ligaments and may require surgery.
For the more mild sprains symptoms include a tender, swollen, or stiff ankle. The ankle may hurt, but you can still walk. For a moderate ankle sprain your ankle will be bruised and, in addition to tenderness and swelling, walking will be painful. A severe sprain will make your ankle feel wobbly and walking may not be possible because of the severe pain. With more severe sprains you may also hear or feel the tear with a popping or snapping noise. Generally, the more severe the sprain is, the more it will swell.
Ankle sprains can become chronic, so it is important to see a doctor if you have persistent swelling or pain.
To treat an ankle sprain at home, use the PRINCE method:
Protection- Protect your ankle with a brace or other form of ankle support.
Rest- Keep pressure off your ankle. Use crutches until it is no longer painful to walk.
Ice- Ice your ankle for 10 to 20 minutes every hour or so during the day for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury. Remember to keep a moist cloth between the ice pack and your skin.
NSAIDs- Take an NSAID medicine (Advil or Motrin) or an acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce the pain.
Compression– Use a compression wrap to help reduce the swelling and wear it whenever you are active. Note that compression and rotection are different and that compression is one of the best methods to reduce the swelling.
Elevation- For two to three hours a day, rest your foot above your heart. This step helps reduce the swelling.
Again, it is important to see your doctor for proper diagnosis, especially if you suspect you have a severe sprain. Proper treatment is essential to getting you back on your feet again.
Sports Med recommends balance, strength, and flexibility training to prevent strains. That means working stretching and cross training into your regular exercise routine so your whole body is conditioned.
Proper ankle support is also an important step in preventing ankle sprains. Make sure your athletic shoes provide proper support to your heels and ankles and replace them when they become worn out. If you play a sport in which ankle sprains are common, you might also invest in an ankle brace to protect your ankles from sudden twists. With proper conditioning and good support, you can help keep an ankle sprain from putting you on the injured list.