A sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries in sports. In many sports, studies show that ankle sprains are the most common injury that players suffer. Even minor ankle injuries can cause the athlete to miss quite a bit of time from the sport. An active person might not be able to exercise for weeks.
Essentially, an ankle sprain is an injury to ligaments that support the ankle joint. Most ankle sprains involve injury to one or several of the ligaments on the lateral side, or outside, of the ankle. Ankle sprains vary in severity based on the number of ligaments injured and degree of the ligament injury. High ankle sprains refer to injuries to the ligaments between the end of the tibia and fibula.
Mechanism of injury
Ankle sprains are traumatic injuries that can occur in many ways. Falls, awkward landings from jumps and stepping on another player’s foot often occur in sports. Lateral ankle sprains usually occur with inversion mechanisms. This mechanism involves the ankle rolling in such a way that the outer border of the foot contacts the ground. Many other movements can occur. Each mechanism can injure different ligaments.
Initial treatment for a sprained ankle in an athlete or active person
Within the first few minutes or hours, decreasing pain and swelling can be important. The acronym RICE offers some of the key steps. R means rest. Try to avoid stress on the injured area, including weightbearing. The letter I stands for ice. Ice or cold packs can help to decrease swelling of the ankle. C stands for compression. An ACE bandage or compression sleeve can decrease ankle swelling. E represents elevation. Raising the leg and ankle above the level of the heart can decrease foot and ankle swelling as well.
Diagnosis of an ankle sprain
A doctor or other healthcare provider can often make the diagnosis by history and physical exam. He can inspect the ankle for swelling. The location of tenderness suggests the type of injury and the severity of ankle sprain. X-rays of the ankle can rule out an ankle fracture or other bony injury. Occasionally an MRI can be helpful. An MRI of the ankle can determine the degree of injury to the ankle ligaments and evaluate cartilage, tendon, and other soft tissue injury.
Possible treatments for an athlete with a first-time ankle sprain
Treatment of an ankle sprain varies from patient to patient. Treatment can vary depending on the type of ankle sprain and its severity. A lace-up ankle brace can stabilize the injured athlete’s ankle, allowing him to bear weight while the ligaments heal. A boot could be beneficial for more severe injuries. Working with a physical therapist can help decrease ankle swelling and restore ankle motion and strength. Balance exercises and other neuromuscular training with physical therapy potentially can speed his recovery. It might also decrease the chance of suffering a recurrent ankle sprain. Surgery is rarely needed for a first-time ankle sprain.
Return to sports or exercise after a sprained ankle
The amount of time it takes an athlete to return to sports or exercise depends on a number of factors. For starters, the nature of the sport or exercise is important. The severity of injury affects return to sports as well. Mild ankle sprains often only cause athletes to miss a few days or one or two weeks. More severe injuries can keep them out for 4 to 6 weeks.
While many ankle sprains are minor injuries and resolve within a week or so, others can be more severe. Plus, other musculoskeletal injuries to the foot and ankle occur with the same mechanism of injury. If any question exists about an ankle injury, its severity, or treatment, seeing your doctor or orthopaedic surgeon can be a good idea.
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