Many people take their ankles completely for granted. They twist and sprain their joint, then continue to perform their normal activities, even though they haven’t properly treated the injury. There’s a misconception that ankle sprains aren’t really serious. The problem with failing to treat a sprained ankle, though, is that the joint never really heals, becoming chronically weak and uncomfortable. This is a problem we see repeatedly at Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic.
What Really Happens to Your Ankle
A sprain is an injury to the supporting ligaments that hold your ankle together. Your ankle is made up of multiple bones that sit on top of each other. Ligaments are bands of slightly stretchy connective tissue that hold bones together, making it possible for the joint to support your weight and still move smoothly. To be effective at keeping the ankle together, however, these connectors can’t stretch very far. Stretching them past that normal range damages the tissue.
Unfortunately, this is easy to do. Any sudden twist from a trip, fall, or just setting your foot down awkwardly can be enough to overstretch, or even tear, your ligaments. Most people significantly underestimate the seriousness of this. The abnormally loosened connectors not only hurt, but can’t support you effectively, either. It takes time and care for ligaments to heal, too. If they don’t recover properly, they can stay too loose, leaving you chronically unstable.
Measuring the Damage
Ankle sprains can range from mild to quite severe. Determining the extent of your sprain is important for getting the most effective treatment for your joint. Typically your injury falls into one of three categories:
- Mild – This is a basic sprain. The ligaments are overstretched and your ankle experiences some swelling, stiffness, and inflammation. You can usually still put weight on the affected foot.
- Moderate – This is a more serious injury. Your ligaments are seriously overstretched and partially torn in some areas. You have more swelling, tenderness, stiffness, and instability. You may or may not be able to put weight on your foot.
- Severe – This is a significant injury that takes a long time to heal. One or more of your ligaments has torn completely. Your ankle is very swollen and unstable. You might have bruising. You probably won’t be able to put weight on your foot without your ankle giving out painfully.
Getting Proper Care
Treating ankle sprains right away is the key to preventing the problem from becoming chronically uncomfortable and weak later. Dr. Darren Silvester and our team at Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic will evaluate your joint to determine how severe the damage is. We’ll also check for complications like fractures. Then we can help you begin proper treatment.
RICE therapy—rest, ice, compress, and elevate—is good first aid for ankle conditions. Stop all activities and avoid putting weight on the affected ankle. Ice the joint and wrap it in a compression bandage to minimize swelling. Prop your ankle up on pillows whenever you can. However, this self-care is not sufficient to heal moderate to severe sprains, particularly if the pain is enough that you struggle to apply weight to your ankle.
Serious sprains need a few weeks in a cast to immobilize your foot. Afterwards, you’ll need to wear a stiff brace for 6-8 weeks to allow you to be somewhat active while still protecting your joint. As the ligaments heal, you’ll be able to transition to a wearing a brace just when participating in activities that could stress your joint. The gradual recovery gives your ligaments time to heal conservatively and return to their normal flexibility and strength.
At our office, we see far too many people dealing with chronic ankle problems because they did not get adequate sprain treatment. You don’t have to be one of them! Let Dr. Darren Silvester and the Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic staff help you recover properly. Call 210.375.3318 to make an appointment.