Properly Treating Ankle Sprains

Sprains in the ankle are some of the most common injuries among athletes today. They are defined by tears of the ligaments that connect each bone, helping stabilize the joint. Whether caused by jumping, turning, or twisting, a sudden change in direction is the primary cause. To best treat these injuries, a proper understanding of the anatomy of the ankle is key.

As a hinge joint between the fibula and tibia in the lower leg, the ankle provides upward and downward movement in the foot along with a small amount of rotation. The surrounding ligaments and structure of the bones allow for stability while preventing excessive side-to-side movement. Among these muscles, the deltoid ligament stabilizes the inside of the ankle, of which very few sprains occur. On the outside are three smaller ligaments (the anterior talofibular, the calcaneofibular, and the posterior talofibular) where over half of ankle sprains occur, the most common being to the anterior talofibular.

Upon injury, the ligaments damaged tend to swell depending on the severity. The worse the sprain, the more ligaments affected. A tearing of every ligament within the ankle often leads to dislocation and potential fractures. Especially among athletes, risk factors can be heightened by previous ankle injuries, lack of strength or flexibility, poor balance, and aging. Some other factors to take into consideration include the surface on which an athlete is playing, stretching and warm-up techniques, the quality of footwear, and any support needed i.e. ankle braces or tape.

Sprains are typically graded on a scale from 1 to 3, diagnosing the injury as mild, moderate, or severe. A Grade 1 ankle sprain usually involves a minor tear with minimal pain and a slight loss of balance. Grade 2 injuries can include multiple ligament tears with moderate to severe pain, swelling or stiffness, and instability. Grade 3’s may require surgery due to a complete tear of any ligament, very little balance, severe swelling, and constant pain.

Treatment for ankle sprains can range depending on the severity, but the most common and most effective practices involve, icing the joint, resting, keeping the foot elevated, and of course, seeking assistance from a medical professional. Compression bandages are often given to those suffering from ankle sprains to prevent any bleeding within the joint as well. Upon spraining the ankle, heat, alcohol, physical activity, and massaging should be avoided at all costs. X-rays conducted by professionals are not uncommon to determine the extent of the injury.

In terms of prevention, players should undergo the necessary medical training to ensure their readiness to play. Training techniques should include flexibility, balance, agility, and strengthening exercises to build endurance in the ankle’s ligaments, as well as gradual increases in intensity. Allowing adequate recovery time in between workouts is also essential. For those prone to ankle injuries, as previously mentioned, wearing braces or taping that support, yet still allow movement can be greatly beneficial. Similarly, proper footwear depending on the sport is perhaps one of the simplest ways to prevent ankle complications.

The healing time for ankle sprains can range anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, though more severe cases have been known to take much longer. Work closely with a sports medicine professional to develop a rehabilitation program that best fits you and your injury.

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