Supporting structures can be just as important as a main frame. Try to imagine a giant cathedral without its buttresses, or a bridge without its arches or suspension cables. Each of these frames need strong supports to stay upright. The same is true of your body—particularly for weight-bearing joints like your ankles. An ankle needs supporting connective tissues to stabilize it. An ankle sprain damages those connectors, leaving your joint weakened and in pain.
Construction of the Ankle Joint
The ankle is made of three bones held together by strong, fibrous, slightly-stretchy connective tissues called ligaments. Two of the bones, the tibia and fibula, are part of the lower leg. They rest on top of the third bone, the talus. Ligaments keep the bones in their proper places so they’re able to support weight while still allowing movement. An ankle sprain overstretches these ligaments, leaving them painfully loose and unable to do their job.
Compromising the Stabilizers
You can sprain your ankle many ways. Often it doesn’t take much force to damage ligaments. A sudden twist, trip, roll of the foot, or even an unusual footstep can be enough. The abnormal motion stretches the ligaments past their normal flexibility, damaging them. They are left loose and sometimes torn. This causes pain, swelling, and weakness throughout the whole joint.
Typically an ankle sprain has multiple degrees of severity, from mild to severe. A first degree sprain is mild. Your ligaments are overstretched, but not torn. You’ll experience some swelling and pain, but you might still be able to put weight on the foot, especially after a few days of first aid care. A second degree injury involves more damage. One or more of the ligaments develops a partial tear. You end up with significant swelling and discomfort, and you might not be able to walk. A third degree sprain is the most serious. It involves a complete rupture of one or more of the connective tissues. You will develop severe swelling and pain, along with possible bruising. Your joint will feel extremely unstable and you probably won’t be able to walk at all.
Repairing and Rebuilding
No matter how severe the initial damage, though, the ankle can be cared for and repaired. Taking care of the joint is actually important for preventing permanent damage. Dr. Robert Parker and our staff at Parker Foot & Ankle will carefully examine the joint to determine the severity of the injury. Our team may also use diagnostic images to rule out complications or check for other conditions, like fractures. Then we can help you manage and repair your ankle sprain.
After the initial injury, you’ll need first aid to take care of the problem. RICE therapy is the best way to handle this. RICE stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate. Take a break from all activities—and in some cases, all weight-bearing—to rest your joint. Ice the ankle regularly to reduce swelling and inflammation in the soft tissues. Wrap the ankle in a compression bandage to keep it stable and control swelling. Then elevate your foot on cushions to rest it and keep fluids from pooling in the joint.
You’ll need to avoid using your ankle much for a few weeks, and longer for severe injuries. If conservative care is not enough, which can happen with torn ligaments, you might need surgery to repair the damage. Once the injured ligaments have had time to heal, however, you’ll need to begin rebuilding your ankle stability and strength. Physical therapy helps with this. You’ll need to stretch your ankle to regain some range of motion. You’ll need to perform strengthening and balance exercises to rebuild your stability.
An ankle sprain can be more serious than many people think. Failing to treat a sprain could lead to chronic pain and instability, making you far more likely to develop a sprain again in the future. Don’t wait to take care of your joints! Dr. Robert Parker at Parker Foot & Ankle will help repair the damage. Call (281) 497-2850 or use our online request form to make an appointment with us today.