Sprained ankles are miserable. Very common and horribly painful, they’re usually the result of a sporting injury or accident, where the ligaments in your foot have been stretched and damaged. Many people often mistakenly believe that their ankle is actually broken, and wish to go to hospital to have it X-rayed. However, although they look swollen and bruised, sprained ankles usually heal well over a few days or weeks, as long as you don’t over exert yourself.
Ligaments themselves are extremely strong but stretchy bands of tissue. They support your joints by connecting the bones in your feet and ankles together. Think of them like elastic bands – they’ll only stretch so far before they break.
Types of sprained ankle
Sprained ankles are grouped into three categories, according to the severity of the injury.
A grade 1 refers to a mild sprain due to a ligament over-stretching. Although sore and swollen, you should be able to put enough weight on it to walk.
A grade 2 sprain is a moderate sprain and means the ligament has been over-stretched enough to partially tear it. You may or may not be able to put sufficient weight on it to walk, and there will be a fair amount of swelling and bruising.
A grade 3 is the highest severity of sprain and happens when the ligament is completely torn or detached. Walking or putting any weight on it will be out of the question due to the pain, bruising and swelling, and it could take some months to fully heal properly.
Symptoms of a sprained ankle
These vary from person to person and depends on the severity of the sprain, as well as how it happened. Generally, symptoms will include:
- Inability to walk or put your weight down on your foot
- An unpleasant sound when the injury happened, like a tearing or popping
If your sprained ankle doesn’t heal on its own, you may find a course of sessions with a physiotherapist will help. Treatment for a sprained ankle primarily aims to bring down the swelling and reduce the pain. It also helps you walk around more freely again, whilst offering a long term plan for further treatment. Severe sprains can take more than a year to fully heal, so you’ll need to follow the advice given and try to be patient.
Unfortunately, severe ankle ligament sprains are likely to course long term weakness if left untreated. There’s nothing more annoying than having to give up sports and activities you enjoy for fear your ankle might “go again”. Physiotherapy can not only help reduce pain, it also plays a vital role in preventing ankle instability going forward.
Depending on your individual needs, a physiotherapist will often use a combination of several different approaches and treatments, including:
- Strength training and balance work for the lower leg
- Mobility work for the lower leg
- Motor control exercises for the hip and leg
- Corrective exercise
- Changes to any training programme you might have, as well as a plan to slowly reintroduce exercise
Spraining your ankle can be a very painful and frightening experience. However, there are several things you can do to help ease the pain and swelling: such as elevating the ankle if possible, and using a cold compress. You may also wish to take some painkillers from the chemist too, or use something to help support your weight, such as crutches. Rest assured that even though they’re unpleasant, the vast majority of sprained ankles get better quickly, as long as you take it easy.
Phoebe Machin BSc(Physiotherapy) AssDip Health Sc(Sport and Exercise) MCSP AACP HCPC registered