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If you slip, trip or fall, it’s all too easy to sprain your ankle. You’ll almost certainly be familiar with sprained ankles and are likely to have experienced a few over the years. But do you know exactly what a sprain is and what happens inside your ankle when one occurs?

Ankle sprains happen when your ankle is forced to go beyond its normal range of motion and a ligament is overstretched or torn. That’s what ‘sprain’ means and is why you may feel a wrenching sensation when you sustain the injury. Most sprained ankles are inversion sprains, i.e. they occur when the foot suddenly turns inwards. This abnormal movement forces the foot to roll onto its outer edge, which jerks the ankle and damages one or more of the three ligaments on the ankle’s outer side. The sequence of events is illustrated in the Mayo Clinic’s ankle sprain video.

Mild, Moderate and Severe Ankle Sprains

Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to each other and are therefore vital to joints. They’re found on the inner side and back of your ankle in addition to the outer side. Ligaments support your ankle and help to keep it stable.

A sprained ankle can be classed as mild, moderate or severe depending on the extent of the damage to the affected ligament. You have a mild sprain if the ligament is overstretched but the ankle remains stable. A moderate sprain means the ligament is partially torn, leading to a reduction in ankle mobility. If you have a severe sprain, the ligament is completely torn, leaving the ankle unstable and unable to move.

Sprained Ankle Symptoms

Key signs you’ve sprained your ankle include:

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Swelling and throbbing
  • Redness, tenderness and bruising
  • Difficulty moving your ankle
  • Struggling to stand and walk

Situations in which Sprains Often Occur

Being aware of the kind of situations in which sprained ankles commonly occur can help you to guard against them.

In a nutshell, you’re most likely to overstretch or tear ankle ligaments when you’re doing something that may cause you to lose your balance and it’s difficult to maintain a secure footing. Rushing downstairs, jumping and landing awkwardly, walking over slippery or uneven ground and wearing high heels can all lead to sprained ankles.

The risk of spraining your ankle increases if you play sport: games such as football, rugby, basketball, tennis and squash involve moving quickly and changing direction frequently, which may result in your foot twisting awkwardly and ligaments being damaged. You might also injure your ankle if another player tackles or bumps into you and steps on your foot.

Performing high-impact dances, such as jive or ballet, is linked to ankle sprains too.

Poor foot and ankle function is another risk factor.

Sprained Ankle Care and Treatment

There are several ways you can care for a sprained ankle at home:

  • Reduce swelling by applying an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel to the affected area for up to 20 minutes, three to five times per day. Elevating your ankle (for instance, by placing it on a pillow when you’re lying in bed) can also help.
  • Relieve pain with paracetamol.
  • Support your ankle with a suitable elastic bandage, sleeve, tape or brace. (Healthline offers instructions on the correct way to wrap a sprained ankle.)
  • Rest well to avoid putting the damaged ligament under further stress.

This approach may be enough for a mild sprain; however, if you don’t see an improvement in a day or two or your symptoms are particularly bad or worsen, seek urgent medical help. A doctor can check if you have significant ligament damage or a fractured bone. A moderate or severe sprain may require prescription-strength painkillers, an ankle cast and crutches or physiotherapy. Surgery is another option for severe sprains, but rest assured this is rare.

It’s essential that sprained ankles are treated effectively in order to avoid complications such as chronic instability, long-term pain and arthritis.

London Podiatrists Ready to Support Your Recovery

Recovering from ankle sprains can take anything from a couple of weeks to several months. If you have concerns about a sprained ankle and want to ensure that your recovery is as smooth as possible, our London podiatry team will be pleased to provide expert support.

For example, we can examine the affected ankle, perform gait analysis to check your foot and ankle function, prescribe custom-made orthotic insoles to correct abnormalities, suggest suitable ankle-strengthening exercises and help you to choose appropriate footwear.

For professional help to overcome sprained ankles, contact Feet By Pody today!