Published: Jan. 6, 2012
Updated: Jan. 6, 2012
With one simple misstep, your ankle might twist at just the right angle to sprain the joint and keep you off your feet for a few days.
Ankle sprains are so common that many people never seek medical care for them. But when should you go to see a doctor and what type of care can you expect?
Selene Parekh, MD, a foot and ankle specialist at Duke Orthopaedics, discusses the symptoms, causes, and severity of ankle sprains and current treatments available to manage this condition.
In common ankle sprains, the outer ligaments of the ankle are injured when an excessive stretching force is applied to them, such as when the foot rolls in and the ankle rolls out.
This can happen by awkwardly planting your foot while walking, stepping down, or running. Be on the lookout for uneven surfaces and unexpected holes that commonly cause these mishaps.
Ankle sprains can cause pain, swelling, bruising, and weakness. This pain intensifies with movement or touching of the ankle joint.
The sprain will also be red and warm due to all the extra blood flowing to the injury.
For mild sprains, you probably don’t need to visit a doctor. If you follow the RICE principles -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation -- you should find that your symptoms subside.
Staying off of your feet or using crutches to get around can help you rest the ankle joint and using an ace bandage to compress the ankle also helps control the pain.
Anti-inflammatory medications help reduce the swelling associated with a sprain and can also offer a bit of relief.
If your symptoms persist for more than a week, you should go see a doctor to ensure a more serious injury has not occurred. Similarly, if you are not able to put any weight on the ankle due to the pain, you should also consult your physician or visit an urgent care facility.
Your doctor will examine your ankle to make sure that a more serious injury, such as an ankle fracture, has not occurred.
He or she may order an x-ray of the ankle and foot to ensure you have a sprain and not something more serious. Many times, ankle sprains can be confused with torn or dislocated tendons, foot fractures, or multiple ligament tears.
The conservative treatments listed above are generally sufficient to heal the sprained ankle. Depending on the severity of the sprain, your doctor might recommend that you use a brace or splint to keep pressure off the ankle joint.
Your doctor may recommend that you seek physical therapy to help you fully regain the range of motion and strength of the ankle. Physical therapy has been shown in medical literature to be very beneficial in preventing chronic ankle pain.
The good news about ankle sprains is that most people who suffer a routine ankle sprain are able to return to their lifestyles and activities fairly quickly after a period of rest.
-- Selene Parekh, MD, is a foot and ankle surgeon practicing at the North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic.