An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. This is a common injury which occurs when an excessive stretching force is applied to the ligaments of the ankle. The resulting inflammation causes swelling and pain around the ankle joint, and the ankle becomes warm and red due to increased blood flow to the area. Following an ankle sprain there is a reduced ability to move the ankle joint and it is difficult to weightbear on the affected leg.
Following trauma to the ankle it is important to rule out a more serious injury such as a bone fracture. It is recommended that you see a podiatrist for clinical examination to rule out a fracture injury. An x-ray, CT or MRI scan may be recommended to confirm diagnosis.
What causes an ankle sprain?
Ankle sprains occur when a greater than normal stretching force is applied to the ligaments of the ankle. This kind of injury can happen if the foot lands awkwardly when running, stepping, or even during simple tasks such as getting out of bed. Stepping on an uneven surface such as a hole is also a common cause of ankle sprain injury.
Once an ankle sprain has occurred, the ankle can become unstable and recurring ankle sprains are common. The risk of developing ankle instability can be reduced by seeking appropriate treatment following a sprain injury.
How is an ankle sprain treated?
If an ankle sprain is not treated there will be a greater chance of ankle instability and longer term problems developing.
Appropriate treatment following an ankle sprain includes:
- Immobilisation and bracing of the ankle in the early stages of treatment: Appropriate immobilisation that allows for early weightbearing on the ankle assists with healing the ligaments and restoring ankle stability.
- Reducing swelling around the ankle: for example, with use of ice and elevation.
- Exercises to regain strength in the leg muscles.
- Balance and proprioception exercises: For prevention of future ankle sprains, it is important to restore balance in the ankle. Specialised exercises to restore balance and proprioception in the ankle help to reduce the chance of ankle instability developing.
On clinical examination, some people with ankle instability are also found to have instability of the sub-talar joint (which is the joint directly beneath the ankle). Custom foot orthotics can provide support to this joint and therefore help to prevent ankle sprains occurring.
Wearing appropriate footwear that provides all-around support is an important aspect of preventing future ankle sprains. Your podiatrist will be able to provide advice on the best type of shoe for your foot type.