Everything has a limit to how far it twists or rotates. Imagine screwing a bottle cap back onto a two-liter of soda or some other drink. Eventually, you reach a point when the cap can’t twist any farther. If you were to continue twisting it, you’d damage either the cap or the bottle, or both. Ankles are only meant to twist and rotate to a certain point, too. When they get forced past that point, you end up with a painful ankle sprain.
How the Ankle Works
Your ankle is made up of three bones stacked above your heel—the talus, tibia, and fibula. The tibia and fibula are actually your lower leg bones. They rest on the talus in a way that lets your foot point and flex. The joint between the talus and the heel bone allows your foot to rotate side-to-side. Everything is held together by tough, fibrous, slightly stretchy connectors called ligaments. These secure your ankle joint, keeping it stable so you’re able to suddenly change directions and push off the ground when you walk or run. These tissues are also the painful victims when you get a sprained ankle.
An ankle sprain results when your foot is suddenly twisted too far. This can happen when you step on an uneven surface, trip, or even just land a foot strike incorrectly. The over-rotation stretches the ligaments stabilizing your joint past their normal range of flexibility. This can seriously damage the connectors and leave your ankle weak and unstable.
There are three general “grades” of severity for this condition. A grade one sprain is mild. The ligaments have been uncomfortably overstretched but remain intact. You’ll develop slight swelling and tenderness in the joint. A grade two injury is a moderate problem. The connectors might be partially torn, weakening them significantly. Your joint will feel stiff and uncomfortable. You’ll have a fair amount of swelling and possibly bruising. A grade three sprain is a severe condition. One or more ligaments will have been stretched past the breaking point and ruptured, making your ankle extremely unstable. You’ll develop a lot of swelling and probably bruising. You most likely won’t be able to put any weight on the affected foot.
Restoring the Joint
Taking care of a sprained ankle right away is important. You need to control swelling and inflammation so the connective tissues can heal. If the ligaments don’t recover correctly, your joint will stay unstable—increasing the odds that the injury will happen again and possibly lead to painful, chronic ankle instability.
Treating the sprain will take some time, but it’s better than losing your ability to participate in your favorite activities. Dr. Leon Watkins, Dr. Maria Markiewicz, and Dr. Charles Caplis will examine your lower limbs to evaluate how serious the damage is, as well as check for complications like fractures. Then we can move forward with the best possible treatment.
As soon as the injury happens, you’ll need first aid. RICE therapy works well for this—rest, ice, compress, and elevate. Stop your activities and rest to avoid stressing the joint. Ice the ankle to combat swelling and inflammation. Wrap the lower limb in a compression bandage to discourage further swelling. Prop your foot up on pillows to elevate it so fluid doesn’t pool around the damaged tissues. As you heal, you might need to wear a brace to keep the joint stable when you walk. Once you’ve mostly recovered, you can begin physical therapy to rehabilitate the ankle for your activities.
A sprained ankle can really disrupt your life and keep you from enjoying your activities. Unlike a broken bottle cap, however, you can restore your joint to health with the right treatment and care. Don’t ignore your ankle and risk additional damage or chronic pain. Let our team at Gulf South Foot & Ankle, LLC help you instead. Use our online request form or call (504)-708-4810 to make an appointment with our office in Metairie, LA.