Ankle Sprain

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments in the ankle when the ankle moves outside of its normal range of motion.

What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain?

Depending on the severity of the ligament damage, an ankle sprain may result in pain, bruising, swelling, tenderness, instability and inability to put weight on the ankle. In more severe cases, the patient may hear or feel a tear, pop or snap. Usually, the greater the pain and swelling, the more severe the sprain is and the longer recovery time.

What causes an ankle sprain?

Ankle sprains often occur when the foot is planted and there is a rapid shifting motion, causing the ankle to roll outward while the foot turns inward, or vice versa. This outward roll of the ankle forces the ligaments along the outside to stretch and tear, whereas the ligaments on the inside are damaged with an inward roll of the ankle.

How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?

The foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush will inquire about the cause of injury and the patient's health history and examine the patient's foot and ankle, lower leg and in some cases the knee to determine how far the pain extends from the injury site.

Mild sprains may not require an X-ray. However, X-rays likely will be ordered for a more severe sprain in order to rule out a fracture in the ankle or foot.

What is the treatment for an ankle sprain?

The foot and ankle specialists at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush will recommend the following for an ankle sprain with only mild ligament damage:

  • Use a protective brace
  • Use crutches until pain subsides
  • Ice for the first 24 to 72 hours or until the swelling subsides
  • NSAIDS (for example, Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen to reduce pain and swelling
  • Compress the ankle using ACE bandage to reduce swelling
  • Elevate the affected ankle above the level of your heart daily

If the patient's ankle remains unstable or painful after the above treatment, physical therapy may be indicated. If there is severe ligament damage, the MOR physician may recommend surgery to repair the torn ligaments.

It is essential to properly treat and rehabilitate an ankle sprain to ensure a full recovery. If the sprain does not heal correctly, the ankle will become unstable and weak and will be more at risk to be reinjured or more likely to develop chronic pain.

The foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush will advise the patient about when to return to sports or activities. Typically, that is when the ankle pain has subsided and the patient's body weight can be supported by the affected ankle. Continued use of an ankle brace or taping may be recommended until the ankle regains stability and full range of motion.