Ankle sprains are injuries that occur when the ligaments that support the ankle and foot are stretched or torn. Ligaments are strong bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another, offering stability and flexibility for the ankle and foot. Ankle sprains are a relatively common type of ankle injury, and the American Foot and Ankle Orthopedic Society reports about 25,000 ankle sprains occur every day in the U.S.
Ankle sprains usually occur when the foot is twisted sharply during motions, especially movements that require quick changes of direction or pivoting. Sometimes, sprains can be caused by falls that cause the ankle to bend in an unnatural way. People with balance problems, gait abnormalities and loss of sensation due to nerve-related problems are more likely to have sprained ankles, and they’re also more common among athletes.
Pain is the most common symptom of an ankle sprain, with symptoms typically increasing when weight is placed on the ankle. Swelling, warmth, and redness may also occur, as well as instability in the joint. Sometimes, a “snapping” or “popping” noise is heard during the injury, indicating the ligament has been stretched or even torn.
Treatment begins with a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the patient’s symptoms, including hands-on assessments and active and passive movements to determine the location and nature of the pain. X-rays or other imaging studies may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of symptoms. Once a sprain is diagnosed, treatment begins with conservative options like rest and application of ice packs to reduce swelling and inflammation. Keeping the ankle elevated can also help reduce swelling. Compression bandages may be applied to promote healing and keep the ankle immobile to prevent further damage, and state-of-the-art laser therapy can also be helpful. Splinting, bracing and crutches or other assistive devices may also be prescribed, along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy can also be very helpful in improving strength and flexibility while also promoting speedier healing. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair or tighten damaged ligaments.
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