ankle sprains & strains

Often seen when basketball players come down from a jump landing on another player's foot, ankle sprains occur following sudden sideways movements of the foot. Although ankle sprains and strains usually are not serious, the accompanying soreness and swelling can slow a person down. For best recovery, it is important to understand the difference between a sprain and a strain. And, in either instance, see your family physician for proper treatment requirements.

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament -- the rubbery band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone with another. Ligaments stabilize and support the body's joints. For example, ligaments in the knee connect the upper leg with the lower leg, enabling people to walk and run. A strain is a twist, pull or tear of a muscle and/or tendon. Tendons are stretchy cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone.

The most common ankle injury occurs when the outer ligaments are stretched or torn due to falling, loosing balance or landing on an uneven surface. Those at risk include athletes, overweight individuals and those in poor physical condition.

If pain and swelling does not subside in seven to ten days after injury, X-rays may be ordered to rule out a fracture.

The initial treatment for an ankle sprain is RICE:

  • Rest -- to allow the natural healing process to begin
  • Ice-- to reduce swelling
  • Compression -- to restrict the injured ankle's range of motion
  • Ellevation -- to reduce fluid accumulation. 

Mild pain medications will alleviate discomfort and crutches may help by reducing the weight placed on the injured foot.

As pain and swelling decreases, the patient may begin slowly moving the ankle in different directions. Once the patient is able to comfortably move the ankle, gentle exercises to stabilize the ankle are begun. Balance and coordination exercises are especially important following an ankle ligament injury to strengthen the tendons and ligaments as well as to reduce risk of reinjury. As the ankle recovers and regains its full mobility, we suggest patients perform stretching and strengthening exercises daily. Wearing an ankle brace also will provide added support to ligaments.

To prevent ankle sprains or strains:

  • Wear supportive shoes 

  • Condition the surrounding muscles 

  • Warm up correctly before engaging in sporting activities  

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