An ankle sprain is the most common athletic injury and the #1 reason people see an orthopaedist. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 30,000 people in the United States alone sprain their ankle on any given day. Sprains are more common in some sports, such as basketball, where landing badly from a jump or pivoting awkwardly can damage the tissues. In one study, basketball-related sprains accounted for 13% of all musculoskeletal injuries.
Recent studies of these injuries have shown that 10-40% of them don’t heal properly and result in persistent symptoms.
At LA Orthopaedic Specialists, our expert team of orthopaedists and orthopaedic surgeons treats all manner of injuries, including ankle sprains. If you’ve had a bad sprain, there are things you can do to prevent your ankle from becoming unstable; we’re here to tell you how.
What causes chronic ankle instability?
A sprain refers to an injury suffered by one or more ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that connect bone to bone. An ankle sprain happens when the ligaments that hold the joint together are stretched beyond their usual capacity. Ankle sprains can vary from a minor stretch on one end to severe tears on the other. The worst-case scenario? When the ligament completely ruptures.
Generally, a mild sprain causes moderate-to-severe pain and only temporarily weakens your joint. With rest, time to heal, and some targeted exercises, it’ll feel better in a month or two. However, if your ligaments don’t heal properly, even a mild sprain can lead to chronic weakness and unsteadiness — ankle instability.
When an ankle becomes unstable, the weakened ligaments increase your risk of spraining it again and again. Eventually, the instability damages the bones and cartilage in your ankle, leading to arthritis (joint inflammation).
If you want to avoid ankle instability, here’s what our experts recommend:
Start with the basics: RICE
No matter if your ankle sprain is minor or severe, it can benefit from starting with the RICE protocol, which minimizes swelling and helps you begin the healing process.
Give your injured ligament a chance to start healing by staying off your foot and taking a break from your activities until your doctor says otherwise.
Apply an ice pack immediately to the injury to minimize pain and swelling. Use the pack for 10-20 minutes at a time, at least three times per day, for the first 2-3 days following your sprain.
Wrap an elastic bandage (like an ACE bandage) around your ankle to minimize swelling. A wrap also provides stabilization while you heal.
Keep your injured ankle elevated any time you’re lying or sitting down, including when you apply an ice pack. By keeping your foot at or above heart level, you can reduce swelling.
Get help from the pros
It may be tempting to try to “walk off” an ankle sprain, but all sprains, even mild ones, need to be evaluated by a professional. Schedule an appointment with us as soon after the injury as possible, and don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about whether treatment is necessary.
Give it a rest
The quickest path to developing chronic instability is to continue using your ankle before it's fully healed.
Keep your weight off your ankle for at least 7-10 days unless we advise you otherwise. If your sprain is moderate or severe, we’ll most likely give you a walking boot or cast to protect and immobilize your ankle as it starts to heal.
Take your time
Restoring full ligament strength is a gradual process, and putting stress on your ankle too soon is one of the most common causes of ongoing instability. An average sprain takes at least six weeks to heal.
As soon as it’s safe, we recommend that you start rehabilitating your ankle through some form of physical therapy; it will help you regain strength and range of motion in the joint. Typically, you start with a gentle range of motion exercises, and, once the swelling and pain decrease, we shift the focus to strengthening activities. We also include exercises for the calves and feet, since they directly affect how your ankle functions.
If you participate in regular or competitive sports, we may include additional exercises to your rehabilitation program that are specific to your activity. We may also suggest you wear a functional brace to stabilize the ankle and prevent it from rolling again as you resume normal activities.
Have you sprained your ankle and are wondering what to do next? If you’re in the Los Angeles, California, area, you need to come into LA Orthopaedic Specialists for an evaluation and proper treatment. To get started, call our office at 213-455-8448, or book your appointment online with us today.