Ankle sprains are most common in athletes or even when doing a simple jog or walking in high heels. When you get your ankle injured, you should not take it lightly. That's why it's important that one should know how to treat a sprained ankle. Not seeking proper treatment or applying the wrong treatments will later result in prolonged discomfort and even arthritis.
What is ankle sprain?
An ankle sprain happens to almost anyone involved in sporting activities or when walking on an uneven ground. It happens when the ankle joint twists in an unnatural motion, when the foot made a bad landing, or when you used too much force on the joint.
An ankle sprain is further described when the ligaments are stretched or torn. These ligaments support the ankle and you can determine the severity basing on the damage on the ligaments; whether it's stretched or torn.
The tearing of the ligaments of the ankle doesn't happen on a whim. The first stage is when the ankle rolls inward (inversion sprain) or outward (eversion sprain). The inward rolling causes pain along the outer side of the ankle. On the other hand, the outward rolling makes pain along the inner side of the ankle. The inversion sprain is the most common to occur while the eversion sprain is the most serious type of ankle injury.
The ankle may roll inward or outward when the entire foot is not on the ground. The toes are instead what bear the body weight and the heel is elevated. When this is the posture of the foot, then, the ligaments of the ankle is subjected to tension. Sprain then occurs when you make a bad landing on an uneven surface.
Sprain is different from tripping as the latter's pain quickly fades away. The sprain is a more serious case as the ankle swells and you may have a difficult time standing or walking. For severe cases, there may be bruising and tenderness around the ankle area. You might also hear something popping or snapping as the ligaments are torn. To give more accurate description in detail, ankle sprains are divided into three grades:
1. Grade-one ankle sprain
Another term is mild sprain. This involves the mild tearing or stretching of the ligaments. The aftereffects are usually soreness and mild swelling. Other effects are discomfort, stiffness, and struggling in walking.
2. Grade-two ankle sprain
Also called moderate sprain. This is about the partial tearing of the ligaments which results in joint instability, swelling, and bruising at the ankle and foot.
3. Grade-three ankle sprain
This is also known as the severe sprain. There's great joint instability and involves rupturing or tearing of the ligaments in a worse way. The immediate results are more intense than the moderate sprain like greater pain, swelling, and bruising.
Another subtype of severe sprain is avulsion fracture. In this case, the ligaments are torn away from the bone which causes the bone to fracture. This may require a surgery.
Treating a sprained ankle
Sprained ankles can be treated inside your home or through medical attention. This case is applicable for minor ankle injuries. On the other hand, one must seek surgery if the sprained ankle involves bone fracturing. The first few to several hours after getting an injury are crucial to monitor.
1. The P.R.I.C.E method
Old sources refer as only R.I.C.E method but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) added an extra letter to further enforce this method.
Protect - The affected area must be well protected. Cease all your activities for the mean time. Also, one thing you must not do is to start massaging the sprained area. This might increase the pain later on as pain is not immediately felt on severe sprains. You can protect your foot by covering it with a loose shoe or any shoe that has a soft sole and padding.
Rest - Rest the sprained ankle from 48 to 72 hours following the injury. The foot shall bear no weight. So, the alternative option is to use crutches when you walk. Since the muscles are tender, the injury must not be worsened. Other means of protection include wearing an ankle boot and ankle brace.
Rest is absolutely vital in any type of injury. This is because the ankle is not subjected to strain which helps in the recovering of the affected muscles. Resting gradually reduces the stiffness. As an added note, not enough rest subjects the foot to arthritis and persistent instability.
Ice - applying ice to the affected area is the best way to relieve the pain. Using ice is not only limited to ankle sprains and has been a recommended treatment for reducing swelling and inflammation. Indeed, ice can stop the bleeding of the stretched or torn ligaments.
To apply ice, use an ice pack and put it on the sprain for about 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat the same process every two to three hours. The process of applying ice should be done within the first 48 to 72 hours.
Compression - To help reduce swelling, you may have to compress your ankle. Do this by using a 3 to 4 inch of elastic bandage. Don't make it too tight that might hinder blood circulation. The compression should be removed or loosen before you sleep at night.
Elevation - Swelling can be also reduced by elevating the ankle higher than your hip. This is necessary as you’repreventing inflammatory fluids to further implicate into the injury.
2. Abstain from HARM
Right after getting an ankle sprain towards 72 hours, prevent from doing the following or more known as HARM:
Heat - Avoid heat packs or heat compresses as these increasethe blood flow going to the injured area. The increased blood flow also increases the swelling.
Alcohol - Don't consume alcohol to prevent bleeding and swelling on the affected area.
Running - Though you can't run properly while having a painful sprain, we are making sure that you won't do any physical activities that necessitate you to put weight on the injured ankle. This will further the damage.
Massage - Massaging is a no-no for the first 72 hours as this increases the bleeding and swelling. But after the time period, you can do some gentle and soothing massages on your foot.
3. Over-the-counter medicines
This is not recommended but rather an option if you can't take the pain. Some painkillers you can take are as follows:
Paracetamol - Take a paracetamol for the first few days on a regular scheme. This helps in easing the pain. However, if the pain's too severe, the doctor may prescribe you to a stronger codeine.
Anti-inflammatory painkillers - As given, this reduces the inflammation of the injury. Inflammation is a trade-off: it causes pain but helps in the recovery. Consider this trade-off in buying. The anti-inflammatory painkillers can be bought without a prescription.
4. Further medical attention
A doctor may require you to a surgery if they see that the joint appears deformed or when you are feeling an extreme pain that can't be taken off or reduced by paracetamol or painkillers. Surgery aims to repair the ligament by reconstructing it using a nearby ligament or tendon.
5. Rehabilitation exercises
When you feel that the swelling and pain have lessened, do some exercises to further speed up the recovery. The exercises restore the ankle's range of motion, flexibility, stability, strength. Doing some exercises on balance and stability work too. In the three phases of recovery, doing rehabilitation exercises is the second phase. The third and last phase involves returning to the activities you used to do but in moderation and also doing maintenance exercises.
Completing the rehabilitation exercises strengthen one's muscles and ligaments. It also prevents you from getting a sprain on the same ankle the next time. Doctors warn that if the phase two is not completed, you may be vulnerable to chronic pain, arthritis, and instability.
After knowing what causes an ankle sprain, the next question you'd ask would be "how long does a sprained ankle take to heal?" The answer to this question varies, at least depending on the severity of the injury.
For grade-one ankle sprain, it takes about five to fourteen days to heel. For grade-two ankle sprain, the healing time takes four to six weeks. Also, this requires a splint for faster recovery. Lastly, the most serious grade-three ankle sprain can take from eight to twelve weeks to a full recovery. Having this injury will make you unable to walk without an aid like crutches. The grade-three sprain may require the wearing of an ankle boot or an ankle cast during the recovery period.
Doctors advise that when you can manage to stand/walk and with bearable pain, then do so as this promotes healing. Of course, you will have the crutches and the protective ankle brace to bear some of your weight.
If you can avoid it, prevent spraining your ankle next time. This is to avoid the risk of developing joint pain and ankle weakness. Learning how to treat a sprained ankle doesn't stop with the basic methods. You should also do rehabilitation exercises to prevent the above mentioned conditions later.