Ankle Sprains: Causes & Advice

An ankle sprain is something that can affect anyone at any age and can be caused by doing something as simple as landing on your foot in a funny way. At times, the injury can be more substantial and the pain can last longer. This can be quite an inconvenience given the fact our ankles are used in almost all of our daily activities. This is also a very common type of injury for athletes, with research suggesting that they account for 15-30% of all sports injuries. Furthermore, it is also often associated with women who wear high-heeled shoes.

How Do Ankle Sprains Happen?
An ankle sprain can occur when the foot twists, rolls or turns beyond its normal motions. It can happen when the foot is planted awkwardly, when the ground is uneven, or when an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint. The ligaments surrounding the ankle can become severely over-stretched and damaged. A damaged ligament causes inflammation, swelling, and bruising around the affected joint. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.
Types of Sprained Ankle
Sprained ankles are grouped into three grades, according to how severe the injury is. These are as follows:
* A Grade 1 Sprain – This is a mild sprain, which happens when you overstretch a ligament. You may have minor swelling, bruising and pain around your ankle, but you should be able to put some weight on your foot.
* A Grade 2 Sprain – This is a moderate sprain, it happens when you overstretch and partially tear a ligament. You may have quite a lot of swelling, bruising and pain around your ankle, which may feel a little unstable. You may also find it difficult to put weight on your foot.
* A Grade 3 Sprain – This is a severe sprain, which happens when you completely tear a ligament. The swelling, bruising and pain around your ankle are usually severe. Your ankle may feel quite unstable and you won’t be able to put any weight on your foot without feeling extreme pain.
Common Symptoms of an Ankle Sprain
Symptoms of a sprained ankle may include:
* Inability to put weight on the affected ankle
* Ankle pain, which can be mild to severe
* Decreased range of motion at the ankle joint
* Swelling and inflammation
* Bruising
* A popping sound during the injury
* Instability of the ankle (in severe sprains)
Properly caring for a sprained ankle can help reduce pain, recovery time and the chance of further complications down the line.
How to Treat an Ankle Sprain
Treatment for a sprained ankle aims to reduce the pain and swelling and to make sure your ankle can maintain or get back to its usual range of movement as soon as possible. It can be frustrating, but it may take several months to recover from a sprained ankle. In some cases, it may be a year or more. So you may need to be patient and follow treatment advice carefully.
* Self-help – If you have a sprained ankle, there’s a lot you can do to ease your symptoms in the first few days. This includes following the R.I.C.E. guidelines. R.I.C.E stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
* Medicines – You can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, to help relieve the pain of your sprained ankle. A doctor may offer you a prescription for codeine in addition to paracetamol. Around 48-hours after your injury, your doctor may suggest you use ibuprofen to help reduce the swelling around your sprained ankle.
It’s best not to use ibuprofen and other similar medicines in the first two days after your injury as they may delay the healing process.
* Exercise and Movement – Depending on the severity of the injury, you should start by doing some gentle exercises when the pain isn’t too bad. These may help prevent stiffness and will eventually get your ankle moving normally. If you have a severely sprained ankle, your doctor may advise you to immobilise it. This means to keep your ankle still, and will probably only be for a short period of time (up to 10 days). They may also advise you to wear a below-knee cast or brace. Wearing a cast or brace may help to reduce the pain and swelling around your ankle quicker than a compression bandage.
* Physiotherapy – If the ankle sprain is more severe, you may benefit from physiotherapy. This aims to keep your ankle moving, prevents stiffness, and strengthens the muscles and joint around your ankle. All of these mean you’re less likely to sprain your ankle again. Your physiotherapist may ask you to focus on building your strength and mobility through coordination exercises and balance training. It’s important to keep to the exercise plan that your physiotherapist recommends.
Without proper treatment for an ankle sprain, there can be long-term negative effects such as chronic instability, decreased range of motion and pain.  Studies show that up to 80% of people who sprain an ankle will re-sprain it and this is normally due to inadequate rehabilitation.

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.