From participants in pick-up games and recreational leagues to pro players, athletes of all levels are exposed to a multitude of injuries – one of the most common being an ankle sprain.
An ankle sprain is the stretching or tearing of the ligamentous tissue that helps to support and stabilize the ankle. Muscle or tendon damage can accompany an ankle sprain, which is why it can be so debilitating. The majority of ankle sprains occur to the lateral (outside) ligaments. Sprains to the medial (inside) ligaments as well as high ankle sprains are less frequent, but take longer to heal.
Ankle sprains are classified by the degree of sprain, which indicates the severity of the injury. The degree of ankle sprain correlates with the amount of damage and can dictate the time needed for healing. A first-degree ankle sprain is the least severe; a third-degree sprain is the most serious.
A first-degree sprain is characterized by microscopic stretching or tearing of the ligament, no laxity (looseness) to the joint, minimal swelling and pain, and no loss of function (i.e., activities may continue as pain is tolerated). A second-degree sprain indicates a more significant tear of the ligaments, swelling, pain, laxity to the joint and loss of function. A third-degree sprain implies a complete rupture of the ligament, thus intense pain and swelling with complete loss of function.
Once an ankle sprain is sustained it is important to care for it properly. Practicing the R.I.C.E. Principle (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) will reduce the pain and swelling. It's also important to utilize crutches, if it's painful to bear weight, or a limp is present while walking. Consult a physician for follow-up care, which may include x-rays to determine if the ankle is broken. Proper treatment of a sprained ankle will ensure a safe and timely return to organized sports, activities, or work.
For additional questions on ankle sprains, other sports medicine topics or to schedule a FREE Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.