Ankle Sprains: Not Just A Walk It Off Injury

By: Sarang Desai- Orthopedic Surgeon | Foot & Ankle
What is an ankle sprain?
Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports related injuries that occur in people of all ages. In fact, ankle sprains are thought to happen every second of the day! Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments that support the ankle are stretched to the outside, and sometimes the inside of the ankle, resulting in the stretching or tearing of the ligaments.
How do you know if you have a sprained ankle?
Ankle sprains occur when the ankle forcefully rolls to the outside or inside. You may hear a popping sound, experience pain or swelling around your ankle, or be unable to bear weight due to instability. Patients will often describe a goose egg where the ligament is torn and swelling occurs. The symptoms will vary in severity depending on the degree of the sprain.
How do you treat ankle sprains?
Typically, I place my patients in a boot for 10-14 days; allowing the patient to walk in the boot as tolerated. This allows time for the pain and swelling in the ankle to improve. Additionally, during this time I will have my patients work on gentle Achilles stretching and rotating the ankle outward. Next, I place patients in an ankle brace for an additional 4 weeks and assign them ankle rehabilitation exercises.
Patients can expect it to take anywhere from 6-12 weeks for their ankle sprain to heal depending on the severity of their injury. Patients can usually resume activities when the pain subsides and has reasonable function of their ankle.
It is important to remember that ankle sprains are ligaments that have been damaged, and these ligaments need time to heal. If you think you have a sprained ankle, you should book an appointment with your orthopedist as soon as possible to insure you do not further compromise function of your ankle.
Are there any long-term issues after an ankle sprain?
Out of all the patients I see with ankle sprains, only a very small percentage will need surgery. If a patient is not progressing as I would expect, or if the pain persists, I will often order a MRI to further evaluate their injury. In my experience, the most common causes of pain in patients after 3 months post injury are ankle impingement (when inflammatory or scar tissue impinges in the ankle) or osteochondral lesion (damaged piece of cartilage).