Navigating The Twists And Turns Of Sprained Ankles

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Oh, how the ankle turns! If you’ve had a misstep or wrong turn result in a sprained ankle, you know how painful this injury can be. Henry Ford podiatric surgeon Paul Di Liddo, DPM, discusses ankle sprains and treatments.

Ankle Injury 101

From risk factors to treatments (and nearly everything in between), here’s what to know — and do — about ankle sprains.

Sprained Ankles Are Painfully Common

In fact, they’re among the most frequent injuries in the United States, with up to 25,000 people per day spraining their ankles. Although often associated with sports, ankle sprains can happen to anyone, anywhere. “I see ankle sprains from tripping over curbs, stepping in holes in a yard or simply walking,” says Dr. Di Liddo. “Ankle sprains — like accidents — happen.”

Ankle Sprains Injure Ligaments

“Ankle sprains occur when the ankle suddenly and forcefully twists or rolls past a point that the ankle ligaments can tolerate,” remarks Dr. Di Liddo. “The ankle ligaments will stretch or tear, either partially or completely.” An ankle can twist, turn or roll during a fall, jump or change of direction, while walking on uneven ground and more.

A Weak Ankle Is A Vulnerable Ankle

Most sprained ankles heal without long-term concern. In some cases, however, ligaments may not fully heal, resulting in a weak or unstable ankle. “A weak or unstable ankle can make an individual more susceptible to repeated ankle sprains,” explains Dr. Di Liddo.

High Arches Can Be Risky Business

People who have high arched feet are more at risk of rolling — and therefore spraining — their ankles. So are people who have “loose joints,” because the ankle can overstretch with a seemingly minor twist. People who are at-risk for ankle sprains should take extra precautions when playing sports or performing other activities.

Some Sprains Can Be Treated At Home — Emphasis On Some

How you treat a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. Minor sprains can be treated at home with the RICE method. The RICE method includes:

  • Rest by avoiding use of the injured ankle
  • Ice applied to the ankle (without touching the skin) for no more than 20 minutes every three to four hours
  • Compression with an elastic bandage
  • Elevation above the heart

Ice, compress and elevate your ankle for the first few days. Rest and refrain from sports until ankle pain and swelling have subsided.

At-home treatments aren’t right for everyone — or every ankle injury. “A swollen ankle is typical if you have experienced a sprain,” says Dr. Di Liddo. “However, if you have severe ankle swelling, are in extreme pain or notice an odd ankle appearance, seek medical attention.” This is also true if you can’t walk more than a few steps or have limited ankle mobility. A foot and ankle specialist can diagnose your injury and begin treatment.

Ankle Treatments Abound

Ankle sprain treatments are designed to decrease pain and swelling, while protecting the ligaments from further injury. Treatments include wearing an ankle brace, walking boot or cast. Physical therapy to strengthen the ankle and maintain range of motion may also be incorporated after the ligaments have started to heal.

“Of course, for more severe injuries, a thorough physical exam and X-rays are necessary,” says Dr. Di Liddo. “This helps ensure that there is no other underlying injury, such as a fractured ankle or Achilles tendon rupture.”

Healing Times Vary

The recovery time for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. Sprains with minimal ligament stretching and no tear require one to three weeks. Partially torn ankle ligaments may take up to six to eight weeks to heal. A fully torn ligament can take several months to fully heal.

What To Do When Ankle Problems Persist

For people who continue to experience ankle instability, there are a host of options. “Physical therapy is the first step — but not the only one,” says Dr. Di Liddo. “If physical therapy has not been beneficial, we can discuss surgical approaches.”

Surgical options include:

  • Ligament repair or reinforcement via an outpatient procedure
  • Osteotomy, which is surgical cutting of bone, to lower arches when ankle instability is caused by high arches

For those with frequent ankle sprains or instability, a medical assessment is necessary and may include:

  • Physical exam
  • X-rays to assess bones and joints
  • MRI to evaluate ankle ligaments

With this information in mind, you can prevent — or address — the twists and turns of ankle sprains.

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To find a foot and ankle specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Paul Di Liddo is a podiatric surgeon and foot and ankle specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit, Sterling Heights and Grosse Pointe Farms.

Categories: MoveWell