Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries that occur among people of all ages. They occur when the ligaments that support the ankle are overstretched and tear. They vary in severity from a mild “twisted” or “rolled” ankle sprain through to severe complete ligament ruptures, avulsion fractures or broken bones. The severity depends upon how much damage is done to the ligaments. These are strong bands of tissue that connect bones together, help to keep the bones in proper position and keep the joints stabilised. All ligaments have a specific range of motion. When those surrounding the ankle are pushed past these boundaries, it causes a sprain which can range from a tiny tear to a complete tear through the tissue. If there is a complete tear of the ligaments, the ankle may become unstable after the initial injury phase passes. Over time, this instability can cause damage to the bones and cartilage of the ankle joint. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
Sprains can occur when:
• Awkwardly planting or landing your foot when running
• Landing unbalanced from a jump/hop
• Stepping onto an irregular surface
• Participating in sports that involve changes of direction or rolling and twisting of the foot
• Walking or exercising on an uneven or unstable ground
• Falling down
• During sports activities, someone may step on your foot while you are running, causing your foot to twist to the side.
• Wearing inappropriate footwear
Depending on the severity, ankle sprains can have a wide variety of symptoms including:
• General stiffness
• Tenderness to touch
• Skin discoloration
• A ‘popping’ sound at time of injury
• Inability to put weight on the affected foot
• Instability of the ankle — this may occur when there has been complete tearing of the ligament or a complete dislocation of the ankle joint
• In more severe cases, there may be sharp pain deep in the ankle joint or pain between your lower shin bones, which may be a high ankle sprain.
Most sprains are minor injuries that heal with home treatments like rest and ice packs. However, if your ankle is very swollen and painful to walk on or if you are having trouble putting weight on it, it is important to see your doctor to determine the severity of the injury. It can take several weeks or months for a sprained ankle to heal completely and without proper treatment and rehabilitation, your ankle can be weakened, making it more likely that you will injure it again. Repeated injury can lead to long term problems, including chronic ankle pain, arthritis, and ongoing instability.