Ouch! Let’s Avoid an Ankle Sprain this Winter

Dec 23, 2020

Start of Winter and Surge of Ankle Sprains?

An ankle sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments in the ankle, usually on the outside of the ankle. Ligaments are bands of tissue—like rubber bands—that connect one bone to another and bind the joints together. In the ankle joint, ligaments provide stability by limiting side-to-side movement.

As one of the most common joint injuries, with more than three million occurring annually, many people perceive ankle sprains to be non-serious injuries that can be treated at home with rest and ice. However according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS), not seeking proper treatment can have serious long-term effects on a person’s return to functionality and can increase the likelihood of a future serious sprain. In fact, it is estimated that 40 percent of people with ankle sprains will develop long-term joint issues. And for this reason, ACFAS warns people there is no such thing as “just a simple sprain.”

The severity of an ankle sprain depends on whether the ligament is stretched, partially torn, or completely torn, as well as on the number of ligaments involved. Ankle sprains are not the same as strains, which affect muscles rather than ligaments.

Ankle Diagram

Sprained ankles often result from a fall, a sudden twist or a blow that forces the ankle joint out of its normal position. Ankle sprains commonly occur while participating in sports, wearing inappropriate shoes, or walking or running on an uneven surface.

Sometimes ankle sprains occur because a person is born with weak ankles. Previous ankle or foot injuries can also weaken the ankle and lead to sprains.

ACFAS recommends that patients limit walking and exercise for two weeks following an ankle sprain. People should also monitor for the indicators of a more serious sprain that would require treatment from a foot and ankle surgeon, including:

  • Redness, swelling or pain in other regions of the leg, which can be a sign of a blood clot
  • Weight on the affected foot continues to be painful with the inability to walk more than a few steps without pain
  • Five to seven days passing with no improvement to the ankle
  • Swelling or bruising lasting more than two weeks
  • An inability to bear weight, a deformity or severe midfoot swelling below the ankle

An untreated ankle sprain may lead to chronic ankle instability, a condition marked by persistent discomfort and the giving way of the ankle. Even for mild sprains, a foot and ankle surgeon may suggest early physical therapy, including prescribed exercises to promote healing and increase range of motion.

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