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Ankle Sprains: Twist and Stretch

Joints can allow a wide range of movements, but their motion is still limited. Imagine trying to bend a hinge in the wrong direction. It may give a little bit at first, but it won’t move far without snapping or tearing something. Your ankles are an important weight-bearing joint that make normal walking possible. Landing a step badly, however, can twist them in the wrong direct and cause ankle sprains.

Soft Tissue Damage

Ankle sprains are common injuries, particularly among athletes. They happen whenever your foot twists oddly and strains the connective tissues that stabilize your joint. You could be running, playing sports, tripping, or even just stepping off a curb. All it takes is one incorrect footfall.

You have multiple connective tissues, called ligaments, which hold your bones in the correct place while still allowing your foot to move at the ankle. These tissues stretch slightly to accommodate your normal motions. A sudden twist, however, can stretch them beyond their normal range and damage or possibly tear them.

This causes sharp, immediate pain in your ankle. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may or may not be able to put weight on the affected foot to walk normally. Your ankle will swell and there could be bruising. It may also feel unstable and it will hurt to move as well.

The Extent of the Problem

There are multiple levels of sprains, from mild to severe. A low-level sprain overstretches the affected ligament and causes relatively low amounts of pain and swelling. It still destabilizes your ankle, but you may be able to walk on that foot anyway. A moderate sprain decreases your ankle’s range-of-motion and causes more intense pain. The ligaments may have partial tears that more significantly affect your joint’s stability. A severe sprain involves a complete rupture of one or more ligaments. Your ankle will not be able to support you and the discomfort and swelling will be fairly serious. The extent of that initial damage typically determines how long you will take to recover, which can range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

Healing the Ligaments

Most ankle injuries can be addressed conservatively, but they all need to be treated sooner rather than later . Waiting to treat damaged ligaments may cause them to not heal correctly, and result in chronic ankle instability. Dr. Paul C. LaFata and our West Lawn Podiatry Associates staff will need to examine your lower limbs carefully and determine the extent of your injury. From there we can help you begin the appropriate treatment.

Basic treatment follows a RICE model —rest, ice, compress, and elevate. You need to take a break from all hard-impact, and possibly all weight-bearing, activities. More serious ankle sprains may need to have the joint immobilized in a splint or cast to allow the ligaments to heal correctly. Ice the painful area frequently, especially right after you hurt your foot. This helps decrease swelling and inflammation. Wrapping the joint in a compression bandage and keeping your foot elevated also helps discourage swelling and promote healing.

Once your ankle no longer has any pain, you can begin physical therapy to encourage proper tissue repair, and rehabilitation to regain your range-of-motion and strength. This may include exercises and stretching. If your ankle doesn’t respond to these conservative measures, or if the initial damage is too severe, you may need surgery to repair the ligaments.

Ankle sprains are painful problems that seriously weaken you lower limbs. If left unaddressed, the problem can worsen and make it harder for you to recover, as well as more likely to damage the joint again in the future. Don’t wait to seek help. Contact West Lawn Podiatry Associates, serving the Reading and West Lawn, PA, areas. You can reach us for an appointment by calling (610) 678-4581 or by using the website contact form.