In my practice, I often hear patients try to shrug off their injuries as “just a sprain.” Thank goodness, an ankle sprain is not a life-threatening injury. And, the course of action for treating a sprain is not as intrusive as the care needed for a broken bone.
However, a sprained ankle is a “real” injury requiring the attention of a medical professional. The technical term is soft tissue damage, and this trauma will not go away simply by ignoring it. Seeking professional care immediately after a sprain, and following doctor’s orders, will minimize pain, and help to speed up recovery.
So if you think you have a sprained ankle, take it seriously! If you do have a sprained ankle, repeated use (continuing to walk on it, work out on it, etc.) may weaken the joint, making it more unstable. You cannot “walk it off”. And forget macho talk like “No pain, no gain” – you cannot “toughen up” a sprained ankle. If you don’t seek treatment, you may risk doing long-term damage to the joint by allowing the ligaments to become more weakened, stretched, or torn. Also, the pain and instability may cause you to trip and fall—which can lead to a broken bone or other injuries.
Don’t self-diagnose: If you’re experience ankle-pain, see a podiatric physician as soon as possible. Clues that you may have a sprain include:
- Pain when you rotate your foot
- Ankle feels unstable when you put your weight on it
- Walking is difficult
- Swelling in the joint
- Redness in the joint
But here’s the thing – fractures and stress fractures may also cause pain and weakness in a bone of joint. Your doctor will perform an x-ray, MRI or CAT to identify exactly what is causing the pain, and treat appropriately.
What to do before you can get to the doctor:
If you can’t see a podiatric surgeon right away, remember the R.I.C.E. treatment until your office visit:
REST – Keep your weight off the injured ankle. If you have a pair of crutches, use them immediately.
ICE – Ice-wraps (you can find these at the pharmacy, drug store or medical supply store) with a handy Velcro tab are easier to use than a bag of ice. Try 20-30 minutes of ice on the ankle every hour.
COMPRESSION — The classic Ace bandage from the drugstore will give the joint some support and stability, and may help keep swelling down. Your doctor may suggest a soft cast or brace as well.
ELEVATION—Raise the injured ankle higher than your heart to increase circulation to the area (yes, this is a good thing) and reduce swelling. Prop your foot up on a stool with pillows. Doing so should reduce the pain.
How to prevent future ankle sprains: This is a common injury, especially if you skate, ski, play tennis or shoot hoops. Athletes often experience that feeling of a skidding, twisting “roll”, especially if you’re running on hiking on an uneven surface, or on gravel. But it can happen to anyone, just walking down a flight of steps, or across a wet lawn (especially if you’re wearing a flimsy slipper, or a tippy high-heeled shoe).
If you over-pronate, or have excessive foot movement within your normal stride, you may be at extra risk for this type of sprain. The most common type of ankle sprain is called an inversion sprain, where your foot turns inward at the ankle. Stabilizing your heel with a corrective orthotic is an easy solution.