If you are asked to think about a kind of sprain that can be sustained by the human body, the odds are pretty good you’ll come up with “ankle sprain” as your answer. Why is that? Well, because these are the most common type of sprain.
Ankle sprains are so common, in fact, that many people make the mistake of thinking they are “no big deal.” This can be a huge problem, however.
Failing to treat an ankle sprain early can lead to bigger problems down the road!
In part, the reason ankles sprains are commonplace is the fact we rely on our ankles. After all, they enable us to move, walk, stand, and even operate the gas pedals in our car.
Besides frequent use, another contributing factor for their commonality is the fact it doesn’t really take all that much for these injuries to happen.
The bones making up the ankle joints—the tibia, fibula, talus, and calcaneus—are connected with ligaments that secure everything in place. These connective tissues do a remarkable job, but they can become injured when stretched beyond their intended range.
Actually, this general situation—ligaments extended beyond what they should be—holds true for any kind of sprain. An example of a non-ankle sprain is turf toe. This frustrating sports injury is a sprained metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint for the big toe, and it happens when the toe bends too far back.
The good news is almost all ankle sprains can be effectively treated with conservative care. Even a completely torn ligament can heal successfully without surgical repair if the proper steps are followed and the affected ankle is immobilized appropriately.
There are three basic phases in treatment for ankle sprains:
- Phase 1 is to rest, protect the injured ankle, and control the swelling and inflammation. This typically starts with first aid and the PRICE protocol (which we’ll explain shortly).
- Phase 2 is to start performing doctor-recommend exercises to restore flexibility, strength, and range-of-motion in the affected joint.
- Phase 3 is to start performing maintenance exercises and gradually return to certain activities that do not require the ankle to twist or turn. Other activities can be slowly added over time.
In the first phase, you need to apply first aid to the injured ankle. We mentioned using the PRICE protocol, which is to:
- Protect the ankle. Simply put, this means stop playing the sport if you are hurt. Too many people try to “walk it off,” but this is not a smart practice as doing so could lead to greater damage and potentially long-term problems.
- Rest. Taking time away from intense activity will not only ensure further damage doesn’t happen, it also gives the body a chance to initiate natural healing processes.
- Ice. Icing the injured ankle both relieves pain and reduces inflammation.
- Compression. Using a tight wrap will further reduce inflammation.
- Elevation. Keeping the affected ankle elevated above heart level is another way to keep swelling to a minimum.
When you come in to see us, we may need to splint or immobilize your ankle, depending on the severity of your injury. In the event of a very severe sprain, you might need to wear a walking boot or short cast as part of your ankle sprain treatment.
In addition to those traditional treatment options, Parker Foot & Ankle is pleased to provide an array of advanced therapies, such as regenerative medicine biologics (growth factors, platelet rich plasma, amniotic stem cell therapy), magnets, and lasers.
Fortunately, surgery is only necessary in rare cases.
As could likely be expected, your customized treatment plan will depend on the severity of the injury. In this case, ankle sprains are graded on three levels of severity:
- Grade 1: This is the least severe, with only some slight stretching and tiny ligament tears. There will likely be some swelling and tenderness around the affected ankle. Recovery may only take around 2 weeks (with proper treatment and rest).
- Grade 2: This grade indicates a moderate sprain. Pain and swelling is greater and there could be some looseness in the joint. In this case, there is a partial tear in the ligament and recovery time will be longer, somewhere between 2 to 6 weeks.
- Grade 3: At this stage, the ligament has completely torn, which results in instability, excessive swelling around the ankle, and severe pain. Depending on the situation, we may need to consider a surgical procedure at this point. When that is the case, we will perform the modified Brostrum ankle ligament repair procedure. Combined with new, regenerative medicine techniques, we are able to frequently reduce recovery time from 12 weeks down to only six.
To accurately diagnosis the severity of the injury and find out what to expect from your ankle sprain recovery, contact our Houston office and request the earliest possible appointment.
As we noted earlier, a sprained ankle might not seem like a terribly big deal—they happen all the time, after all—but returning to intense physical activity before the ankle has fully healed can lead to chronic instability.
Part of the problem with chronic ankle instability is that your ankle has become weaker and is more susceptible to sprains in the future. Keeping that in mind, make sure you carefully follow the treatment plan we provide for you – no matter how badly you want to go back to your favorite sports.
Even though it might seem like recovery is taking forever, remember that trying to go back too soon will only make the problem linger and keep you out of action longer!
There are certainly other kinds of sprains you could potentially suffer, but the treatment for them is generally going to be fairly similar. We will look to treat these injuries using conservative options first. For most patients, this is rather effective and they are able to return to normal activities.
With regards to other foot and ankle sports injuries, nonsurgical approaches also have a high success rate.
When the injury is to a soft tissue, controlling the inflammation is an essential starting point. Various medications and an appropriate icing regimen can work quite well in doing so. Beyond inflammation control, physical therapy exercises tend to be particularly beneficial.
Broken bones—including stress fractures—are another form of foot and ankle sports injuries we treat for patients. In this case, the body really does most of the heavy lifting during the recovery phase. Our role is to make sure everything is lined up correctly (and stays that way!) for optimal healing.
With a bone fracture, initial diagnosis and evaluation is essential. We will use advanced diagnostic tools to evaluate the nature of the break and determine the location of any broken ends or fragments. If anything is out of place, we will likely have to use surgery to correct the situation. In doing so, there may be a need to secure parts with pins, screws, and/or plates.
The good news is that surgery for foot and ankle sports injuries tends to be rare. And when it is needed, you can trust that our team at Parker Foot & Ankle has the skill and experience to perform the successful procedure you need.
For more information about sprains or any other sports injuries—or to request an appointment—please don’t hesitate to contact our Houston office by calling (281) 497-2850 or via our online form.