A sprained ankle is when you have damaged the tendons or ligaments in the ankle joint. Your ankle is a very flexible part of your body, allowing you to perform a range of movements, including running and jumping. This flexibility, and the fact that all your weight has to go through your ankle means that it is more prone to injury than some other joints; in fact it is the joint that brings the most number of people with sprains to A&E each year.
While sprains primarily affect the tendons and ligaments, the chances are quite high that you may experience some muscle strain. This is why these two conditions are often considered and treated together.
It is easy to sprain your ankle from running, jumping, or even just walking. These injuries are highly common if taking part in a sporting activity. If you land and your foot is rotated onto its side, this stretches the ligaments at the side of the ankle. Most people sprain the outside ligaments of their ankle by rotating their foot inwards, although it is possible to sprain the inside ligaments too.
Often once you have sprained your ankle, fluid and blood flow increases around the injured area to protect it from further damage, either from movement or knocks. This often leads to swelling and bruising.
The symptoms you experience will vary depending on how you have sprained your ankle and the severity of the injury. However, most people will experience immediate pain, which gets worse as you move your foot, tenderness to touch and perhaps some swelling. After a few days, bruising may also appear. The severity of sprains can be split into three categories to give the greatest understanding of the injury and how it should be treated:
- Grade 1 – this is the least severe sprain you can have. You may have stretched or slightly torn your ligament, but you will still be able to bear your own weight and walk
- Grade 2 – this is when you have torn the ligament, although it is only a partial tear. You will feel more pain than with a grade 1 injury, and you may have more difficulty bearing weight
- Grade 3 – the most severe grade of injury is when you have completely ruptured the ligament. You are unlikely to be able to put weight on your joint.
There is nothing anyone can do to completely eliminate their chances of spraining their ankle. However, certain measures may reduce the likelihood. These include:
- Wearing well fitting and supportive trainers when you are running is the first big step toward protecting your ankle. It is suggested that you should change your trainers every 300-500 miles. If your trainers support your feet and ankles, then you are much less likely to roll over on your foot
- It is important to wear shoes that are appropriate to what you are doing. Stiletto heels on uneven, stony or bumpy ground is likely to end with an ankle injury
- You may find that an ankle brace will provide support, particularly if you are prone to ankle injuries and are playing a lot of sport. Wearing boots which support your ankle may help as well.
The type and severity of your injury dictates the sort of treatment you should have. Immediately after spraining your ankle you should follow the PRICE procedure, and within the next 72 hours you should also protect your injury against further HARM. This will provide the best start towards recovery and minimise pain and damage.
You may also find that pain killers and anti-inflammatories, including herbal remedies such as those containing arnica can help ease your discomfort.
For some injuries, particularly Grade 3 sprains, you may need to seek medical attention. It is important to give your injury adequate recovery time so that it returns to full strength and mobility.