The ankle joint is the joint most likely to be affected by a sprain. It contains tendons and ligaments that are at risk of being stretched or torn when the foot is forced to land in unnatural positions. This can occur whilst playing running, walking, playing sports or even undertaking everyday activities.
A sprain can occur when the foot lands awkwardly or on an uneven surface or is twisted inwards or inverted suddenly with force. This places a greater than usual stress on the ligaments that normally help stabilize the outer part of the joint, resulting in a sprain.
When a sprain occurs, the injured tissues become inflamed as the blood vessels allow fluid to accumulate into them. This will result in the area will become swollen, and there will also be pain. Depending on which ligament is affected, the pain may become worse when the foot is moved in a certain direction or when walking. There may also be some redness caused by increased flow of blood to the affected area, and a feeling of warmth.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a more serious injury such as a fracture. An x-ray should be taken to rule out the possibility of this. You should definitely contact your doctor if you have any symptoms such as an inability to walk without severe pain, uncontrollable pain, loss of feeling in any of the toes, or no improvement is noticed after five days.
An ankle sprain can be treated by reducing the inflammation. Using ice is the most effective way of reducing inflammation and swelling. If ice is applied as soon after the injury as possible, it can help to prevent much of the inflammation from occurring. Either use an ice pack, or use a towel between the ice and the skin. Apply the ice to the affected joint for 15-20 minutes every one or two hours.
Rest the affected joint as much as possible initially, and keep the leg and foot elevated to reduce pain and swelling. Ideally the foot should be raised above the level of the heart. Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
Protecting the ankle during the initial healing phase is important. Tape, compression bandages or a brace can be used to protect and support the ankle. In more severe sprains or fractures a leg cast may be applied to immobilize the joint. In some cases crutches may be required until pain free weight bearing is possible.
If the ankle has not healed properly, the sufferer may experience a feeling that their ankle is 'giving way' when they try to use it again. If they try to undertake their former activities too soon, or try to exercise at a high intensity, they are placing themselves at risk of further ankle sprain. Once pain free motion is attained, strengthening exercises are advised to help the ankle regain its former strength and to keep the joint flexible. A gradual return to full activity is recommended, for example walking half the distance and running half, gradually increasing the amount of time spent running. If you suffer from repeated ankle sprain, consider taping the ankle before undertaking activities. This will give the joint some support and hopefully prevent sprains from reoccurring.
Chronic ankle injury requires proper rehabilitation exercises over a period of time in order to improve the range of motion and enhance strength and stability. If ankle pain is managed properly and well the risk of developing a chronic injury is greatly reduced.