A woman stopping in her jog to hold her ankle in pain.

Sprained Ankle / Ankle Injuries

Injuries to the ankle are usually thought of as something that occurs during sports, but ankle injuries can develop from everyday occurrences like walking and can range from sprains to chronic conditions. They are a common type of injury with a variety of treatment options, from simple rest to requiring ankle surgeons to operate.

To learn about ankle injuries and treatment options from orthopedic surgeons, watch the video and hear Howard Barker, MD bring his expertise to the table as he elaborates on the mechanics of ankle sprains and ways to treat the condition.

Types of Ankle Injuries

There are many types of ankle injuries that range in severity and not all are caused by sudden trauma, but can be chronic or develop over time. Some of the most common injuries of the ankle include:

  • Sprains: Ankle sprains are one of the most common types of ankle injuries. They occur when the ligaments that support the ankle are stretched or torn. There are different grades of sprains, ranging from mild (Grade I) to severe (Grade III).
  • Strains: Ankle strains involve damage to the muscles or tendons around the ankle. These injuries can occur from overuse, sudden movements, or excessive stretching.
  • Fractures: Ankle fractures are broken bones in the ankle, usually the tibia, fibula, and the various bones in the foot, such as the talus or calcaneus.
  • Achilles Tendon Injuries: The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, which can be strained, partially torn, or completely ruptured.
  • Tendonitis: Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, often caused by overuse or repetitive motion. In the ankle, it can affect the Achilles tendon or other tendons in the area.
  • Peroneal Tendon Injuries: The peroneal tendons run along the outer part of the ankle and can be injured or inflamed, leading to pain and instability.
  • Bursitis: Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa sacs that cushion and reduce friction between tendons and bones. Ankle bursitis can cause pain and swelling.
  • Cartilage Injuries: Damage to the cartilage in the ankle joint can occur due to trauma or wear and tear, leading to conditions like osteochondral lesions.
  • Dislocations: Ankle dislocations occur when the bones of the ankle are forced out of their normal position. This is often a result of high-impact trauma.
  • Chronic Ankle Instability: Repeated ankle sprains or injuries can lead to chronic instability, where the ankle feels wobbly and prone to giving way.
  • High Ankle Sprain (Syndesmotic Sprain): This type of sprain affects the syndesmosis, which is the ligament that holds the tibia and fibula together. It often requires a longer recovery period than a typical ankle sprain.
  • Stress Fractures: These are tiny cracks in the bone that develop over time due to repetitive stress, often seen in athletes or individuals who engage in high-impact activities.

Common Symptoms of an Ankle Injury

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of ankle injury and the extent of the injury, but there are common symptoms that mean seeking a proper diagnosis from a healthcare provider to ensure appropriate treatment:

  • Pain: The most common symptom of an ankle injury. The intensity and location of the pain can vary depending on the injury.
  • Swelling: Inflammation can lead to localized swelling, making the ankle appear puffy or enlarged.
  • Bruising: Blood vessels may break, leading to discoloration of the skin.
  • Stiffness: A limited range of motion can result from swelling, pain, or direct injury to the joint or surrounding tissues.
  • Numbness or tingling: This could indicate nerve involvement or compression.
  • Instability: The ankle may feel wobbly or unstable, especially when standing or walking, which is common with sprains.
  • Popping or snapping sensation: Some injuries, like certain ligament tears or Achilles tendon ruptures, can create a popping or snapping feeling at the time of injury.
  • Deformity: In the case of severe injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, the ankle may appear deformed or out of its normal position.
  • Inability to bear weight: Depending on the severity, it may be difficult or impossible to put weight on the injured ankle.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can overlap among different types of injuries. For example, both sprains and fractures can result in pain, swelling, and bruising.

Care for Ankle Sprains and Injuries

There are a variety of care options and treatments available for ankle injuries and sprains, including:

  • R.I.C.E.: This is a first-line treatment for many soft tissue injuries, including ankle sprains.
  • Pain and Anti-inflammatory Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can provide exercises to restore range of motion, strength, and balance. Physical therapy can also help reduce the risk of recurrent ankle sprains.
  • Immobilization: For more severe sprains or certain fractures, the ankle might need to be immobilized with a brace, boot, or cast to allow tissues to heal.
  • Surgery: Some injuries, particularly certain fractures or severe ligament tears, might require surgical treatment.
  • Weight-bearing Restrictions: Using crutches or other aids might be recommended initially to prevent placing weight on the injured ankle.
  • Activity Modification: Depending on the severity, you might need to temporarily avoid activities that place undue stress on the ankle.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases of chronic inflammation or for certain types of injuries, a healthcare provider might recommend a corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation. This is not a standard treatment for acute ankle sprains.
  • Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP) Injections: For chronic injuries or to potentially accelerate healing, PRP, which is derived from a person’s own blood and is rich in growth factors, might be injected into the injury site.

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