Ankle Sprain 101

Ankle injuries can occur to anybody and may be tricky to treat.  Many times a sprain will initially get better but fail to completely heal or even start to become painful again.  People with conditions outside of the ankle that have not been diagnosed or treated properly are at an increased risk for recurrent ankle injuries.  Many of these conditions are difficult to assess on initial exam and often fail to be diagnosed immediately following injury.  Persistent inability to bear weight or bear weight without pain, persistent swelling, clicking or popping, feeling of instability, or pain that doesn’t decrease are all reasons to see a podiatrist for a physical exam and treatment.  Ankle sprains can commonly be classified into several different types.  These types include bone, cartilage, and soft tissue injuries and are all treated differently.


Bone injuries include fractures, stress fractures, and contusions.  Several common fracture patterns occur with ankle sprains.  If pain or swelling persist at a particular area of the foot or ankle, it is essential to see a physician.  They may take x-rays or order an MRI to further evaluate the area and start treatment.


Cartilage injuries such as scuffs to the joint surface within the ankle may result in increased swelling or pain after activity.  Commonly the pain and swelling improves with rest but then returns once normal activity is resumed.


Soft tissue injuries come in many forms.  If a frayed ligament associated with the sprain heals in the joint, a catching sensation can cause pain or instability.  Premature return to activity may allow poor healing of ligaments and cause weakness or instability.  Muscles and tendons that stabilize the ankle may be damaged in a sprain.  This results in pain, weakness, and/or unsteadiness. Nerve damage can occur in a sprain leading to weakness, numbness, or pain to the ankle or foot.


Seeking a podiatrist treatment plan is important to improving the long-term outcome of a sprain.  Communication with the physician about the pain and how treatment is progressing is essential, especially if symptoms are not becoming better.  Treatment plans depend on the extent of the sprain and tissues involved and may consist of immobilization, casting, physical therapy, or surgery.