How to heal a sprained ankle?

how to heal a sprained ankle-Dr. Shrikant dalal-Orthopedic doctor in Pune

A sprained ankle is a common injury that can happen to anyone, whether you’re an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or just going about your daily activities. In this article, explore insights on sprained ankles, their causes, symptoms, and expert advice from Dr. Shrikant Dalal, a leading Orthopedic doctor in Pune. Let’s explore this prevalent injury and empower you with the knowledge to ensure a swift recovery.

What is a sprained ankle?

A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments that support the ankle joint are stretched or torn. Ligaments are tough, flexible tissues that connect bones and provide stability to joints. The most common cause of a sprained ankle is a sudden twist or turn of the foot, leading to an overstretching of the ligaments beyond their normal range.

What are the symptoms of a sprained ankle?

A sprained ankle can present with a variety of signs and symptoms depending on the severity of the injury. They may include:

  • Pain and Tenderness: One of the primary symptoms of a sprained ankle is pain. Individuals may experience a sharp or dull ache, especially when putting weight on the affected foot. Tenderness around the injured area is also common, indicating potential ligament damage.
  • Swelling and Bruising: Swelling is a noticeable indicator of a sprained ankle, occurring shortly after the injury. The affected area may also display bruising, caused by blood vessel damage. Both swelling and bruising are visual cues that help confirm the severity of the sprain.
  • Limited Range of Motion: A sprained ankle can restrict your normal range of motion. Difficulty moving the ankle joint or a feeling of stiffness may indicate ligament damage. Pay attention to any impediment in your ability to flex, point, or rotate the ankle.
  • Instability and Weakness: Instability and weakness in the ankle are common symptoms of a sprain. If you find it challenging to bear weight on the affected foot or experience a sense of wobbliness, it suggests ligament laxity and compromised stability.
  • Popping Sound: In some cases, a sprained ankle may be accompanied by a popping or snapping sound at the time of injury. This audible indicator can be a sign of ligament tearing or stretching.
  • Redness and Increased Warmth: The injured area might become red, and there could be an increase in warmth around the sprained ankle. These symptoms may suggest inflammation, a natural response to tissue injury.
  • Difficulty Walking: A significant sprain can make walking challenging. If you notice a pronounced limp or an altered gait, it’s a clear indication that the ankle injury is affecting your mobility.
  • Delayed Onset of Symptoms: In some cases, symptoms of a sprained ankle may not manifest immediately after the injury. It’s essential to remain vigilant, as pain and swelling can develop gradually over a few hours or even days.

What causes a sprained ankle?

A sprain occurs when your ankle moves out of its normal position, causing one or more ligaments to stretch, partially tear, or completely tear. Knowing the causes can help prevent such incidents and promote overall ankle health.

  • Sudden Twisting or Rolling Movements: Accidental twists or rolls of the ankle during physical activities can lead to ligament overstretching or tearing.
  • Uneven Surfaces: Walking or running on uneven terrain increases the risk of losing balance and spraining an ankle.
  • Inadequate Footwear: Wearing shoes without proper support or with worn-out soles can contribute to instability and ankle injuries.
  • Weak Ankles and Muscles: Lack of strength and flexibility in the ankle and surrounding muscles can make them more susceptible to sprains.
  • Previous Injuries: A history of ankle injuries can weaken ligaments, making them more prone to sprains in the future.
  • Poor Warm-Up: Failing to warm up before engaging in physical activities can result in stiff muscles and reduced joint flexibility, increasing the likelihood of a sprained ankle.
  • Sports and Physical Activities: Participation in sports or activities that involve abrupt stops, jumps, or changes in direction can elevate the risk of ankle sprains.
  • Age and Gender: Younger individuals, especially those engaged in active sports, and females generally have a higher susceptibility to ankle sprains.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight puts additional stress on the joints, including the ankles, making them more prone to injuries.
  • Environmental Factors: Slippery surfaces or challenging weather conditions can contribute to accidental slips and falls, leading to ankle sprains.

How is a sprained ankle diagnosed?

During a checkup, your doctor will look at your ankle, foot, and lower leg. They will touch the skin around the injury to see if there are any sore spots, and move your foot to check how well it moves and if there’s any discomfort or pain.

If the injury is serious, your doctor might suggest one or more of these special tests to make sure there’s no broken bone or to understand how much damage there is to the ligaments:

  • X-ray: This test uses a small amount of radiation to take pictures of the bones in your ankle. It’s good for checking if there are any fractures.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRIs use radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create detailed images of the inside of your ankle, including the ligaments.
  • CT scan: CT scans show more details about the bones in the joint. They take X-rays from different angles to make 3D images.
  • Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to create real-time images. It helps your doctor see how well a ligament or tendon is doing when your foot is in different positions.

How is a sprained ankle treated?

Treating a sprained ankle depends on how bad it is. The goals are to reduce pain and swelling, help the ligament heal, and get your ankle working well again. If it’s a serious injury, you might see a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon or a doctor who’s an expert in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

For self-care:

  • Rest: Don’t do things that make your ankle hurt.
  • Ice: Put ice on your ankle for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours for the first few days.
  • Compression: Wrap your ankle with a bandage to reduce swelling. Don’t wrap it too tight.
  • Elevation: Raise your ankle above your heart, especially at night, to help reduce swelling.

You might also take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

If walking is painful, you might need crutches. Depending on how bad it is, your doctor might suggest a bandage, tape, or brace to support your ankle. In severe cases, you might need a cast or walking boot to keep your ankle still while it heals.

Once the pain and swelling go down, your doctor might recommend exercises to make your ankle stronger and more flexible. They might also suggest balance exercises to help prevent future sprains.

If your ankle doesn’t get better with therapy, and it’s still unstable, you might need surgery. This could involve fixing a ligament or using tissue from nearby ligaments or tendons to reconstruct it. Surgery is rare and is only done if other treatments haven’t worked.

How can I reduce my risk of getting a sprained ankle?

Sprained ankles are a common injury that can disrupt your daily routine and lead to long-lasting discomfort. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a sprained ankle.

  • Strengthen Ankle Muscles with Targeted Exercises: Engaging in regular exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles around your ankles can significantly enhance stability and support. Learn easy-to-follow routines that promote flexibility and resilience.
  • Choose Proper Footwear for Every Activity: Wearing the right shoes for different activities is crucial in preventing ankle sprains. Discover expert tips on selecting footwear that provides adequate support, cushioning, and traction to safeguard your ankles during various physical pursuits.
  • Maintain a Healthy Body Weight: Excess weight can put additional strain on your ankles, increasing the risk of injuries. Explore practical advice on maintaining a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise, promoting overall joint health.
  • Warm-Up and Stretch Before Physical Activity: Proper warm-up and stretching routines are essential in preparing your muscles and joints for physical activity. Uncover dynamic warm-up exercises and stretching techniques that can help prevent sudden twists or strains that may lead to ankle injuries.
  • Be Mindful of Your Surroundings: Paying attention to your environment is crucial in preventing accidental slips and trips. Learn practical awareness techniques and tips for navigating different terrains to minimize the risk of rolling or twisting your ankle unexpectedly.
  • Gradually Increase Intensity and Duration of Activities: Sudden spikes in activity intensity or duration can strain your muscles and joints, increasing the likelihood of injury. Discover gradual progression strategies that allow your body to adapt, reducing the risk of overloading your ankles.
  • Consider Ankle Braces or Supports for Added Protection: For individuals with a history of ankle injuries or those engaged in high-impact activities, using ankle braces or supports can provide an extra layer of protection. Explore the types of braces available and how they can offer stability without compromising mobility.

When to see a doctor

If you can’t walk after getting hurt and your swelling and pain haven’t gotten better or have gotten worse within 24-48 hours, it’s important to see your orthopedic doctor to check for a serious sprain.