The ankle contains a number of ligaments. These ligaments are made of strong fibrous tissues that hold the bones together and stabilise the joint while also allowing movement to occur.
A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments in your ankle are overstretched. The severity of a sprained ankle can range from a minor sprain in the ligament fibers to a complete tear or rupture. Most injuries occur in the ligaments on the outside of the ankle.
Sprained ankles are caused by twisting forces applied to the lower leg often described as “rolling” or “going over” on the ankle. This can be caused by:
- Walking on an uneven surface
- Sports involving sudden stops or jumping.
- Direct contact during sports where the foot is stepped on while running or being tripped.
Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:
- A popping sound, or feeling a snap
- Inability to weight bear
- Localised tenderness
- Instability of the ankle
Your doctor will ask you questions about the nature of the injury and your symptoms.
Your doctor will examine your ankle and assess your range of movement, any tenderness or any instability.
An x-ray may be required to check if there is any fractures of the ankle or foot bones.
Ultrasound scans allow your doctor to view the ligaments and can be helpful in assessing the severity of your ankle injury.
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan may be required to view the cartilage, ligaments and other soft tissues in more detail.
Following an injury to the ankle, you should:
- Rest – avoid weight bearing on your ankle
- Ice – apply for 20 minutes at a time, taking care not to apply directly to the skin.
- Compression – applying light compression to the affected area can help reduce swelling and provide support.
- Elevation – will help minimise swelling
Ankle sprains do not usually require surgery. Non-surgical treatment includes:
- Medication to control pain and inflammation
- Avoid weight bearing – this may require the use of aids such as crutches
- Immobilisation – a supportive bandage or in some cases an ankle brace may be required
- Physiotherapy – to assist with exercises to improve control, strength, balance and to prevent stiffness.
Occasionally ankle sprains do not heal with non-surgical treatment and your surgeon may recommend surgery.
Surgery may be required to repair or reconstruct the damaged ligaments to prevent ongoing pain and instability of the ankle. Arthroscopic or keyhole surgery may also be required in some cases. In this procedure a small camera is used to look into the ankle joint through a small incision and enables damage within the joint, such a loose pieces or cartilage flaps, to be repaired.
To help prevent ankle sprains a number precautions should be taken to:
- Warm up before exercise or sport
- Take care when running or walking on uneven surfaces
- Wear good footwear
- Ensure good conditioning of muscles surrounding the ankle to support the ligaments