Ankle Sprain Treatment: Surgery, Rehab and Recovery
Ankle Sprain Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment Options
Almost everyone has experienced the moment when your left or right ankle twists the wrong way and you end up with a sprain. In fact, this type of scenario happens so frequently that 150,000 people are sent to the emergency room or urgent care center each year for ankle sprains. And that figure doesn’t even include those who don’t seek medical help for their injury.
Even though all of us have experienced a sprained ankle (or know someone who has), not everyone understands how these injuries happen so easily. Your ankle has three main lateral ligaments made up of resistant and flexible fibers that support/defend against side to side or awkward movements. In addition to those ligaments there are also a few medial ligaments that add support.
A sprained ankle occurs when one (or more) of your ankle ligaments is stretched out or torn.
A stretched ligament is the least severe of this injury, while the most severe includes multiple ligaments being injured or fractured; including if it becomes partially or completely torn.
The Three Grades of Ankle Sprains
- Grade I sprains are the least severe. A grade I sprain cover slight tears with a little swelling, stiffness or tenderness. You can usually still walk without much pain.
- Grade II sprains are larger partial tears with greater pain, bruising and swelling. You might still be able to walk, but it’s going to be pretty painful. You’re better off in crutches.
- Grade III sprains are a complete tear of the inner or outer ankle ligaments. You shouldn’t be walking. Needless to say, you’ll be off your feet for a while in recovery.
You could have rounded third awkwardly in a beer league softball game or crashed and burn chasing your toddler around the backyard. There’s a million different ways you can sprain an ankle—but it’s usually when you make some kind of indecisive or clumsy physical motion at high speeds and fall all over yourself. Sometimes it's just some temporary ankle pain and you can walk it off. Many times, it's a sprain.
Fatigue and lack of preparation are major causes for severe ankle sprains.
Oftentimes you might “roll” your ankle without tearing or stretching the ligament too severely and avoid a long recovery. Other times your ankle “rolls” outward (with the foot tucked inward, called an inversion) or inward (foot tucked outward, an eversion) too far and partially or completely tears the inner or outer ligaments.
Just like the severity of the injury can fall on a spectrum, so too will the symptoms you experience as a result. Almost immediately there will be pain, and you may not be able to put a lot of weight on the joint or walk properly. After some time the area will start to swell and get stiff, preventing movement even further. You can also tell if there is bruising in the area.
In all, your ankle is probably sprained if you’re experiencing:
- Severe pain
- Limited range of motion
- Difficulty walking
One thing to note is that if you have had various sprains in the past you may not experience all of these symptoms, you may just feel wobbly. It’s important, though, that even if there aren’t multiple signs of injury that you could still need medical attention to insure proper healing.
What Should You Do If You Think You've Sprained Your Ankle
The moment you suffer the sprain, do not try to continue your activity. Doing so can often make the injury worse, even turning a partial tear into a complete one. You need to get attention right away so that the severity of your injury can be assessed.
If an ankle sprain isn’t treated properly, you could develop a troublesome condition called chronic lateral ankle instability. Severe ankle sprains can cause osteochondral lesions of the talus (bone chip fractures) which may be difficult to heal without professional medical help.
If you cannot get medical attention right away, be sure to ice the area, keep it elevated, and rest until you can.
The ER or urgent care center will give you an initial diagnosis and temporary treatment. Many sprained ankles are treated with splinting or casting, rest, ice, compression, medication such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and physical therapy. But be sure to follow up and make an appointment with a specialist—a foot and ankle surgeon who specializes in treating ankle sprains and other related conditions. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair the damage.
Non Surgical Self Treatment
- Applying ice
- Immobilization and support
- Compression - to alleviate swelling in the first 24 - 36 hours
Ankle surgery may be required to correct a serious deformity or injury of the ankle and its bone structure. Diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or neuromuscular conditions may cause severe foot and ankle deformities that, over time, cause pain and difficulty in walking.
Advanced Foot and Ankle of Wisconsin offers a number of surgical procedures to treat and cure ankle injuries, deformities and issues, including:
- Tendon surgery
- Joint surgery
- Nerve surgery
Sprains are something of a freak accident in many cases, so they’re not particularly easy to prevent. However, there are certainly steps you can take to minimize the possibility of hurting yourself:
- Stretch thoroughly before exercising
- Strengthen the muscles around your ankle
- Balance training – continuously improve your ability to manipulate and control your body to avoid the awkward movements often resulting in sprains
- Taping and bracing