Ankle sprains are caused by an unnatural twisting or force on the ankle bones of the foot, which may result in excessive stretching or tearing of one or more ligaments on the outside of the ankle. The severity of the sprain can impact the degree of damage as well as the type and duration of treatment. If not properly treated, ankle sprains may develop into long-term problems.
Primary symptoms of ankle sprains are pain following a twist or injury, swelling, and bruising.
The classic treatment for an ankle sprain is what is referred to as the Rice Program:
This treatment is designed to decrease the inflammation and swelling of the ankle associated with the sprain. The Rice Program by itself will not heal the ligaments. In order for the ligaments to heal, the ankle needs to be immobilized with either a cast or a boot. For minor sprains, a brace can be applied to the ankle. Walking is permitted during this recovery process, allowing the ankle ligaments to heal.
Following this period of initial immobilization, strengthening exercises are essential to regain the balance of the ankle. It is critical that the tendons and muscles on the outside of the ankle (the peroneal tendons) are strengthened. This should be done initially in a supervised exercise program.
If the ligaments have been severely torn, the ability to fine tune the ankle and prevent further sprains from occurring depends on the strength of the peroneal muscles. As the ankle turns repeatedly, the peroneal muscles weaken further.
This weakens the ability to prevent recurring sprains resulting in ankle instability . Patients with a high arch or a heel that is naturally turned in slightly are predisposed to sprains. As a result of continued rolling, turning or instability of the ankle, the ability to fine tune the foot on uneven surfaces becomes limited.
The ability to make rapid changes in the position of the foot on the ground surface is called proprioception. If this ability is diminished, the likelihood of a more severe ankle sprain occurring is increased. Serious ankle sprains, particularly among competitive athletes, may require surgery to repair and tighten the damaged ligaments.
To prevent ankle sprains, try to maintain strength, balance, and flexibility in the foot and ankle through exercising, stretching, and wearing well-fitted shoes.