Rolling, twisting or turning your ankle can be a temporary pain. Many individuals who suffer an ankle sprain limp around for a few days and then go on with their lives when, the swelling subsides and the pain resolves. Although this is a common way to handle an ankle sprain, it is not the best plan as it can lead to further complications down the road.
How Common Are Ankle Sprains?
The ankle is the most injured joint in athletics. Injuries to the ankle joint account for 45% of all athletic injuries. However, athletes are not the only individuals susceptible to ankle injuries.
The Journal of Emergency Medicine estimated that 28,000 ankle injuries occur daily in the United States alone. These injuries translate into millions of dollars spent on treatment.
What Are Long-Term Complications Of Ankle Sprains?
Improperly managed ankle sprains are believed to contribute to long-term complications, including chronic instability or arthritis in the ankle joint.
Chronic Ankle Instability
Chronic ankle instability, or CAI, can linger long after an ankle sprain. CAI symptoms include:
- the ankle giving away
- repetitive ankle sprains
- ankle weakness
An individual can be predisposed to developing chronic ankle instability if they have symptoms associated with a mismanaged ankle sprain, including increased ankle ligament laxity, decreased balance and decreased dorsiflexion range of motion. These symptoms may occur long after the sprain occurred. As many as 74% of athletes experience one symptom of chronic ankle instability up to four years after an initial ankle injury
Ankle Sprains and Arthritis
Although they may seem to be a minor inconvenience at the time, ankle sprains can lead to long term health consequences down the road. The American Journal of Sports medicine found that repetitive injury and other symptoms of chronic ankle instability can lead to early-onset osteoarthritis, which can cause pain and dysfunction later in life. Painful movement can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle and the numerous health consequences that come along with decreased activity.
How Should I Treat My Ankle Sprain?
Ankle sprains are typically treated as a minor orthopedic injury. Have your injury examined by an orthopedic physician, athletic trainer, or other sports medicine professional to insure you are dealing with an ankle sprain and not fracture or other more significant injury.
The first step in rehabilitation of an ankle sprain is to manage swelling by encourage the natural flow of the lymphatic system to remove stagnant inflammation from the injured ankle.
If your ankle sprain makes walking difficult, a walking boot or brace can help make getting around easier.
Typically, ankle sprains result in decreased dorsiflexion range of motion at the ankle. Dorsiflexion is the motion at the ankle where your toes are pulled up toward the shin. The Journal of Athletic Training found significant weakness in both plantarflexion (pointing your toes towards the floor) and hip abduction (when your leg moves away from the middle of your body) in individuals recovering from an ankle sprain.
Strengthen the muscles above and below the ankle including muscles of the feet, calves, and even hips.
Work to improve the athlete's balance or proprioception. Proprioception is your body's ability to balance or sense its position in space. Several studies utilizing a rehabilitation focused on; progressive strengthening, balance training, and hopping has shown positive results in reducing ankle sprains.
Athletes should work with a sports medicine professional to ensure that they are ready to return to play. Functional testing can help compare an injured ankle to a non-injured ankle. Athletes should be pain free and exhibit full strength, range of motion and balance. Once an athlete is ready to return to play, they should slowly build up in duration and intensity of sports specific activities in practice before transitioning to full game play.
How Can I Prevent Ankle Sprains?
Although no injury is 100% preventable, there are steps to take to help prevent an initial ankle sprain or reoccurring sprains.
An ankle injury prevention program has been shown to reduce the risk of ankle injury. An injury prevention program should focus on:
- Neuromuscular control
- Ankle strengthening
- Hip strengthening
- Maintaining ankle range of motion
By Zach Creighton
Lead Athletic Trainer, Franciscan Health Sports Medicine Crown Point