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Health and Fitness News

Ankle Sprains Explained

What you need to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of a sprained ankle.

You trip and fall or twist your ankle the wrong way. Next thing you know, it hurts to put weight on your foot. Walking is painful and you wonder if you need to make an appointment to see the doctor. Is it a sprain, strain, or something more serious?

Millions of people sprain their ankles each year. The good news is that you can usually diagnose and treat sprains at home and they usually heal within a few days or weeks without medical intervention. Read on to get the low down on sprained ankles.

A Roll, Turn, or Twist

The bones in your foot are held together by bands of tissue called ligaments. These ligaments are designed to stabilize the ankle and prevent the joint from overextending past its normal movement. Tripping, landing awkwardly on your foot, walking on uneven surfaces, or having someone step on your ankle can cause your ankle to roll, turn, or twist in an unnatural direction. This stretches the ligaments beyond their range of motion, resulting in injury.

While you can suffer a sprain in daily life, you’re at a greater risk for sprained ankles if one of these describes you:

• you’re an active athlete
• you’ve have had a previous ankle injury
• you play sports and are out of shape
• you walk or run on uneven surfaces
• you wear unsupportive shoes

Pain and Tenderness

A sprain can cause a stretch, partial tear, or complete tear in one or more ligaments, usually on the outer side of the foot. At the moment of injury, you may feel a popping sensation or even hear a pop. Immediately afterward, the pain sets in, especially when you try to stand or walk. It may hurt to touch the ankle, and there may be swelling and bruising.

If left untreated or if activity is resumed too quickly, a sprained ankle may cause permanent damage to the ankle joint, weakening it and making the joint more prone to future injuries, instability, pain, and arthritis.

RICE Treatment

The first line of treatment for a sprained ankle aims to reduce pain and swelling. Follow the acronym RICE to start the road to recovery. Rest your ankle. Apply ice for 20 to 30 minutes several times a day. Wrap the ankle with compression bandages to support and immobilize the joint. And for the first two days, elevate your injured foot above your heart when you can.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to take anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs to reduce pain and swelling. And crutches or a boot may be necessary to help you get around.

After the first few days, when the pain has subsided you can begin doing gentle movements and exercises to increases the ankle’s strength, flexibility, and range of motion. In the event your pain and swelling don’t go away after a couple days, seek medical evaluation. Your doctor may recommend strengthening exercises or physical therapy. In rare cases, surgery is needed to repair a severe sprain that doesn’t heal from home care.

Prevention

While ankle sprains aren’t 100-percent preventable, there are ways you can lessen their occurrence.

Every time you plan to exercise, don’t forget to spend a few minute warming up. Be sure to wear supportive shoes designed specifically for your activity, and when playing a sport, wear athletic tape or a brace on an ankle that’s been previously injured. Finally, stay in shape and include flexibility and strength training exercises in your workout routine.

With these small tips, you’ll make big progress toward a sprain-free life.