Landing wrong after a layup, tripping on a pothole, or missing the last stair can buckle your ankle and send you tumbling to the ground in pain. You’ve just experienced one of the most common ankle injuries — a sprain.
Here, Dr. Matthew Cerniglia, our podiatric specialist at Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas in Fort Worth, explains what happens when you sprain your ankle, how to recognize the symptoms, and what to do after you experience one.
The ligaments in your ankles are made of strong, fibrous tissues that connect your bones to one another. These ligaments also stabilize your joints and keep your bones in the right positions.
Under normal circumstances, ankle ligaments can withstand a fair amount of pressure and accommodate bending and twisting to a certain degree. However, if you twist, turn, or roll your ankle in such a way that it exceeds the normal range of motion, something’s gotta give, and it’s usually your ligaments.
The trauma of the incident overstretches your ligaments and tears the tissue. The severity of the tear determines the level of your sprain:
Microscopic tearing is a grade 1 sprain, which is somewhat painful and involves minor swelling.
Partial tearing means you have a grade 2 sprain, which involves more pain and swelling as well as some instability.
A complete tear constitutes a grade 3 sprain, the most severe type. Both inflammation and pain are extreme, and your ankle becomes so unstable that it can’t bear your weight.
Although Dr. Cerniglia can often determine whether you’ve sustained a sprain simply by observing and palpating your ankle, he may order an X-ray to rule out a fracture and an MRI to view the ligaments.
If you’ve injured your ankle and suspect a sprain, make an appointment to see Dr. Cerniglia right away. The sooner you start treatment, the better your chances of a full recovery. Here are some telltale signs you’re dealing with a sprained ankle:
When you sprain your ankle, the first sign is pain. At the moment of the trauma, you feel intense pain that likely makes you stop what you’re doing immediately so you can tend to the injury. The pain lasts for hours, days, or weeks, depending on the severity of the sprain.
Ankle sprains hurt even when you’re at rest. Most people report that their ankle is tender to the touch, which means that Dr. Cerniglia’s manual exam will probably be uncomfortable.
As soon as your ligament tears, your body sends healing resources to the site. Blood and other fluids fill the area, and your ankle begins to swell. Inflammation is helpful in the initial stages of healing, but if it lingers, it contributes to the pain.
Pooling blood in your ankle becomes visible externally, and your ankle takes on a range of purple, red, gray, and blue tones. Over time, this bruising fades to yellow and brown and eventually disappears, but the deep colors may be with you until you’ve healed completely.
Sprained ankles are notorious for causing instability. Even grade 1 sprains can make it difficult to walk, but grades 2 and 3 are especially tricky. Even if you can tolerate the pain, the ligaments are compromised and can no longer properly bear your weight.
The first thing to do if you’ve sprained your ankle is protect it from further injury. We may apply a splint or brace to keep it immobile.
Next, you must rest. Even if the pain isn’t severe, stay off of the foot for a while so your ligaments can heal properly. Crutches can help you get around without causing more damage.
To reduce the pain and aid the healing process, you need to get rid of the swelling. You can help this process along by elevating your ankle, icing it, and using a compression bandage. Anti-inflammatory medication may also help.
Dr. Cerniglia lets you know when your ankle is ready for gentle movements. Strategic exercise and physical therapy can ease your ankle back into action without reinjuring it. Eventually, you move on to strengthening exercises and balance training.
Surgery isn’t typically required for sprained ankles unless they become recurrent or lead to chronic instability. If you need ankle surgery, you’re in the best hands with Dr. Cerniglia — he’s one of less than 1% of all surgeons worldwide who specialize in total ankle replacement, so he can repair your ankle, whatever the damage.
To schedule an appointment, book online or call us today.