Ankle sprains are relatively common injuries that occur when you “roll” or “turn” your ankle. Sometimes this can happen in a minor way, and you’ll get away without fully spraining your ankle, but a full sprain can be extremely painful, comparing to that of a break.
What is an ankle sprain?
A sprain occurs when your foot turns in, stretching the ligaments that connect the bones of the ankle. In severe cases, the ligaments may be torn, prolonging the recovery time. If you go to see a doctor for your ankle sprain, they’ll grade it depending on its severity:
- Grade 1 – Mild – ligaments are stretched but not torn. The ankle still feels stable. Some pain, stiffness, and mild inflammation.
- Grade 2 – Moderate – one or more ligaments are partially torn. The joint feels unstable (you don’t want to weight bear or move it much, but it is possible), you’ll be in a lot of pain and the joint will be swollen.
- Grade 3 – Severe – one or more ligaments are totally torn, the ankle is unstable. Bearing weight is not possible due to the severity of the pain and instability. Substantial swelling, severe pain, and you’ll be unable to move your foot.
What causes an ankle sprain?
Any situation in which your ankle is forced to stretch in a direction it isn’t used to can damage the ligaments. This most commonly happens when:
- Stepping in an unseen dip or hole in the terrain (such as a rabbit hole)
- Turning direction at speed
- Stepping on someone else’s foot or an unseen rise, such as a branch or curb.
While most sprains happen due to exercise (hiking, walking, playing sports), they can happen when simply going about your daily life, especially if you have weak ankles and are prone to ankle injuries.
What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain?
The symptoms of a sprained ankle are:
- Sudden and often severe pain in the ankle, which depending on the severity, may cause lightheadedness.
- Swelling around the ankle joint.
- A limited range of movement immediately after or shortly after the injury.
- In severe cases, the ankle will feel completely unstable, and so you will not be able to stand on the foot.
How do you treat an ankle sprain?
If your symptoms are severe, it’s worth heading to the emergency room to get it x-rayed to ensure it’s a sprain and not a fracture. If you can weight bear on your foot without extreme pain (even if it is still very unpleasant), then your best steps are to:
Rest – Rest the ankle as soon as you can
Ice – Apply ice to the ankle as soon as possible
Elevate – Raise the ankle when possible to help increase blood flow and decrease swelling.
Taking painkillers and anti-inflammatories (such as paracetamol and ibuprofen) is also a good idea.
How do you prevent ankle sprains?
Whether you have strong or weak ankles, it’s important to wear supportive footwear when you’re walking or running on uneven ground. It’s also important for everyone to warm up properly before exercise, for example, walking briskly for 5 minutes before you start running or lifting weights. If you like to wear high heels, consider wearing a pair of flat shoes between destinations so you’re less likely to make a wrong step.
Taping or wearing a brace is another option for sportspeople who experienced a severe injury in the past, but make sure you use it in conjunction with strengthening and stability-building exercises, not instead of.
Building ankle strength and mobility will help prevent ankle sprains, especially for those with weak ankles. Make sure you focus on ankle mobility, stability, and strengthening exercises as a part of your daily routine. Don’t forget to improve the strength and mobility of surrounding joints and muscles too, such as the hip, knee, and leg muscles, as this will help support the ankle.If you’re not sure where to start, our eBook Joint Health 101 contains everything you need to know to improve your ankle strength and mobility so you can decrease the likelihood of a sprain, or rehabilitate an ankle that has recently experienced a sprain, as well as all the best advice and exercises you need to have incredible joint health. To get your hands on it, click here.