It’s that time of year. Kids are back in school. After the more leisurely summer, activities are ramping up. From sports like football and soccer to gym class and other extracurricular activities like dancing, children and their parents are more likely to be rushing around and sprain an ankle. After all, the ankle is the most commonly sprained joint.
There are plenty of potential causes. Here’s what you should know:
Types of Sprains
Although most people twist or sprain an ankle at some point in their life, there are different degrees of sprains from mild (Grade 1), moderate (Grade II), a partial tear of the ligament, to severe (Grade III) which is a complete tear of the ligament and requires surgery. Many times, the ankle rolls outward, while the foot turns inward causing the ligaments on the outside of the ankle to stretch or tear. Less frequently, the opposite happens and the ankle rolls inward while the foot turns outward, which damages the ligaments on the inside of the ankle. The least common sprain is the high ankle sprain when the foot rotates outside and the leg rotates inward. Once you’ve sprained your ankle, your risk of re-injuring it can be as high as 40-70 percent.
A sprained ankle will often swell and bruise, but the severity can range from being tender and stiff to extremely painful and unstable to the point you can’t put any weight on the ankle. You may also hear or feel something tear, snap or pop at the time of the sprain. X-rays or possibly a CT scan or MRI will show the severity of the sprain.
The best way to treat a sprained ankle is to use the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression (heat) and Elevation. Also, taking anti-inflammatory ibuprofen like Advil or Motrin can help reduce swelling. Physical therapy can help strengthen your ankle and improve your healing time along with other techniques like massage therapy, gentle stretching and ultrasound treatment. Doing range-of-motion exercises like calf stretches, pointing and flexing your foot or writing the letters of the alphabet with your ankle can help improve mobility. After your ankle begins to improve, it’s important to do balance and control exercises like standing on one foot.
If Problems Persist
Typically, ankle sprains heal within three months. If swelling or pain persists longer than that, it could be the sign of a more serious problem including: tendonitis, a floating bone chip, a bone bruise, chronic synovitis (damage to the joint), an OCD lesion (a small hole in the ankle bone), tarsal coalition (where one or more bones are abnormally joined together) or sinus tarsi syndrome, which can happen following an ankle sprain in flat pronated foot or when the ligaments in the sinus tarsi, the bony gap between two bones in the rear of the foot under the ankle joint, get sprained. Typically, this condition gets missed or isn’t diagnosed until after the initial pain and swelling on ankle sprain settles down. If your conditions don’t improve, you should consider going to an orthopedic specialist.