Ankle sprains are so common—especially in the winter—that many people inherently understand and initially follow positive steps for recovery: ice, elevation and rest.
However, many sprain victims also resume their regular activities as soon as they no longer experience discomfort and feel stable on their feet. If the ankle is not fully healed, this resurgence in physical activity and weight-bearing can lead to repeat sprains or other foot and ankle injuries. An assessment by a podiatrist can establish the severity of the sprain and recommend a recovery plan designed to limit the potential for recurring ankle injuries.
Anatomy of an Ankle Sprain
An ankle sprain occurs when the ankle is twisted, turned or rolled in a manner that stretches or tears the ligaments that connect the ankle bones and provide stability for the joints. This leads to inflammation and swelling.
Ankle sprains also disrupt receptors in the ankle joints that help maintain balance. This is part of the reason why ankle sprains impair balance and restrict range of motion. Ankle sprains vary widely in severity, although in most cases the ligaments will heal on their own with proper care.
Treating an Ankle Sprain
Following an ankle sprain, it’s important to rest the ankle with accompanying periods of ice and elevation. On its ankle sprain page, the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) recommends resting the ankle for at least 48 hours.
During this time, weight should be kept off the ankle and any physical activity that could stress the ankle should be limited. The AOFAS advises icing the ankle for 20 minutes at a time every two to three hours, with the leg and ankle elevated so that the toes are approximately nose-level.
Over-the-counter pain medication may be used to reduce discomfort. Within a day or two of the sprain, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist, who can determine whether your ankle may need further evaluation for a severe strain or broken bones within the ankle and foot.
How Your Podiatrist can Help
It’s important to remember that while resting from an ankle sprain, the corresponding muscles begin to weaken. If you resume activities before your ankle is healed, you can set yourself up for repeat sprains, chronic pain in the heel and foot, and the premature onset of arthritis in the affected ankle joint.
A podiatrist can determine the extent of your injury and prescribe appropriate recovery measures. These measures may include the temporary use of crutches and a compression wrap as your ankle heals, as well as exercises intended to help you restore muscle strength, regain your range of motion, and increase ankle stability.
The podiatrists at the Foot & Ankle Center of Northern Colorado are dedicated to helping patients recover from sprains and other foot and ankle injuries. If you suffer from foot or ankle pain, please call our Greeley office at 970-351-0900 or our Longmont office at 303-772-3232 to learn how we can help you.
Photo by Nina A.J.