If you have ever sprained your ankle, then you know how painful the condition can be and how it can limit your ability to walk, run, or accomplish your normal day to day activities. Correctly treating an ankle sprain is important to ensure that you control the initial inflammatory response and safely restore normal motion to your ankle and foot.
Typical Causes of Ankle Sprains
An ankle sprain is caused by turning your ankle over. This typically happens when you are walking or running and you step on an uneven surface. This forces your ankle to move rapidly and forcefully in one direction, stretching the ligaments on the side of your ankle that support the joint.
The most common type of ankle sprain is called an inversion sprain where your ankle turns inwards and stretches the lateral, or outside, part of your ankle. This happens for two reasons. First, the boney anatomy of your ankle blocks motion in one direction and forces your ankle to move more easily into inversion. Second, the three lateral ligaments of your ankle are smaller and weaker than the big, thick ligament that supports the medial, or inside, part of the joint.
Treatment for Ankle Sprains
If you have sprained your ankle, there are many different treatments that you can do to quickly recover and get back to your normal activities. First, and most importantly, you should call your doctor if you suffered an ankle sprain, just to get a definitive diagnosis and ensure that a more serious injury hasn't occurred to your ankle.
Most ankle sprains respond well to conservative treatment. These treatments may include:
Ice: An ankle sprain typically causes pain, swelling, and bruising in your ankle and foot. This is a sign of inflammation, and the initial treatment for the inflammation should be application of ice to your foot and ankle. Ice helps to temporarily decrease circulation to the area to minimize swelling.
Ice should be applied to your ankle for 15 to 20 minutes, and should be coupled with compression and elevation. An ice wrap specifically for your ankle is best to help provide the best ice coverage and maximal compression to treat the acute pain and swelling in your ankle.
Heat: Once the acute inflammation from your ankle sprain is under control, heat can be applied. The heat helps to improve blood flow to the joint. This helps control muscle pain and improve mobility in the muscles around your ankle joint.
It is important to use a heat pack that conforms to your ankle to provide optimal coverage. Be sure to use a hot pack with a cover or towel to prevent burns to your skin.
Bracing: Ankle sprains typically respond well to using a brace to help stabilize the joint as it heals. A brace keeps your ankle in line and helps to prevent over stressing the ligaments as they heal.
Caution should be used when wearing an ankle brace; using it too long can cause significant tightness and weakness in your ankle joint and surrounding muscles. This can make your course of ankle rehab difficult.
Physical therapy and exercise: A course of physical therapy is often necessary to rehab your sprained ankle. Your physical therapist will asses your condition and prescribe treatments to control inflammation, decrease pain, and improve your ankle range of motion and strength.
Your PT will likely prescribe specific exercises to help improve your ankle mobility and strength. The exercises can help you return to your previous level of activity and can help prevent future episodes with your ankle.
Exercises for your ankle that your PT may prescribe may include:
An ankle sprain can be a scary and painful injury. It can limit your ability to work or enjoy your normal recreational or athletic activity. By doing the right treatments for your ankle, you can quickly and safely return to your previous level of activity.