Anyone who has ever played football will be familiar with this situation: your opponent slides sideways to reach for the ball and in the moment of collision, your ankle is rolled in just one fatal second. The ankle will start hurting and swell right away. The most common diagnosis in this case: a sprained ankle. In this article, you will find out more about this condition, how a sprained ankle is treated and how a support can do wonders.
There is hardly a sports injury more common than a sprained ankle. However, you do not even need to do active sports to twist your foot or ankle. An incautious step or getting your foot caught somewhere is enough. The ligaments surrounding your ankle are naturally prone to injury; if you are unlucky, the bones may also be affected.
If a sprained ankle is not treated timely and adequately, there is a risk of lasting damage, such as joint instability. This causes increased long-term wear in the joint, which in turn can lead to osteoarthritis.
What does the ankle look like in detail?
To understand what a sprained ankle means, we need to take a closer look at the ankle. The ankle is the joint that connects the lower leg bone to the tarsal bones. The upper ankle is where the joint surfaces of the shin bone (tibia), calf bone (fibula) and ankle bone (talus) meet. Here, the shin and calf bones form a mortise covered with smooth joint cartilage, the ankle mortise, which fits around the talus bone from above.
The underside of the talus, together with the heel bone (calcaneus) and the navicular bone, form the lower ankle joint, which strictly speaking consists of two independent joints. This complex structure is held together by firm ligaments that govern the range of motion of the joints. Every joint is also surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue.
How does an ankle sprain happen?
An ankle sprain happens when one or more of the joints mentioned above is moved beyond its normal physiological range with a high level of force. As the ligaments that hold the joints together are only elastic to a certain extent, they are overstressed if subjected to excessive strain, with painful results. At a certain point, this may even result in a partial or full tear. This is then referred to as a rupture (ligament tear in the ankle) or partial rupture, which causes a tangible loss of stability in the joint.
If the ligaments tear at their insertion site, bone fragments may also be pulled away from the joint, which is visible on an x-ray. In the case of a traumatic sprain or traumatic injury in the upper ankle, the joint capsule is usually damaged. This is referred to as an injury of the entire capsular ligament complex.
How do you identify an ankle sprain?
The initial symptoms appear immediately after the ankle is sprained. Taking steps, moving or putting weight on the affected foot usually causes pain. The joint swells rapidly, bruising (hematoma) is common, and the injured area is extremely sensitive to pressure.
Only a thorough examination will reveal the type and extent of the injury. X-rays and other imaging techniques show the physician which anatomical structures have been affected. For example, it is possible to determine whether the ligaments have simply been overextended, or whether they have been partially or fully torn. These scans also enable the physician to diagnose joint capsule injuries or avulsion fractures.
How is an ankle sprain treated?
The affected joint should immediately be immobilized, cooled and elevated. A compression bandage reduces the extent of the swelling and ensures that the injured tissue is not subjected to further stresses before it can be treated.
The medical treatment depends on the extent of the injury, which is divided into three grades of severity:
- Grade 1: Overextension of the ligaments without damage or joint instability
- Grade 2: Severe overextension of one or several ligaments or partial rupture without joint instability
- Grade 3: Complete ligament tear in the ankle joint and instability of the joint
How long will I be incapacitated after an ankle sprain?
Most ankle sprains do not require surgery and can be treated conservatively. This means that the joint will be immobilized for a few days using an ankle orthosis, AirLoc® for example.. After a few weeks, the orthosis can be replaced with a support such as MalleoTrain. This helps mobilize your joint again. Depending on the severity of the injury, crutches can also help relieve the joint. Pain medication, cryotherapy (ice treatments or cold air) or lymphatic drainage (for extreme swelling) may be used in addition.
In most cases, sprain patients are put on sick leave between one and six weeks. Again, it all depends on the severity of the injury: if you have a sedentary job where you do not need to put strain on your foot, you should be able to return to work within a few days.
After you have overcome the acute injury, you can start physiotherapy, which will help you regain the full scope of motion as well as your coordination and strength. To lower the risk of another injury, the muscles around your ankle need to stabilize the joint. Our Bauerfeind Treatment App offers helpful exercises you can do at home to strengthen and stabilize your ankle.
Avulsion fractures and complete ruptures, however, where the torn areas are no longer in contact with one another, usually have to be treated with surgery. Here, a ligament suture repair is carried out to reattach the ends of the ligament. Avulsion fractures can be fixed with a screw to allow the bone fragments that have been torn away to fuse back together with the bone. Of course, the recovery period is longer in these cases.
How an ankle support helps with recovery
An ankle support – such as MalleoTrain – helps mobilize and stabilize your joint after an injury. It reduces pain and helps with a quick recovery. Find out more about the effectiveness of our Train supports and the Bauerfeind Treatment App to go with it.