Your ankles are built to endure quite some strain. Which they must, as the strain they are subjected to when under stress is multiple times higher than your body weight. Strong ligaments ensure that your ankle is guided reliably during movement. However, they are not indestructible: if the joint is bent beyond its natural range of motion, a painful ankle ligament sprain can ensue. In extreme cases, a partial tear or complete rupture, i.e., a torn ligament, can occur. Find out here how to identify a ligament injury and what you can do to support the recovery process.
Which ligaments does the foot have?
The area of the body that we call the ankle is a complicated structure made up of bones, cartilage and connective tissue. The clearly visible medial and lateral malleoli are thickened areas at the bottom ends of the shin bone and calf bones. On the underside, they form a mortise covered with smooth joint cartilage, the ankle mortise, which fits round the talus bone that is also covered with cartilage. Together, these three bones – the ankle mortise consisting of the shin and calf bones and the talus bone – form the upper ankle joint. The lower ankle consists of the heel bone, the talus bone and the navicular bone, which is situated next to the other two bones.
In addition to the joint capsule, several ligaments positioned around the ankle joint hold the bones together. These ligaments are made of strong connective tissue fibers and govern the joint’s natural range of motion.
Most sprained ankle cases involve an injury in the upper ankle region. Here, we find larger ligaments – four on the outer side of the joint (lateral collateral ligaments) and three on the inner side (medial collateral ligaments) – that partly extend toward the heel bone and the tarsal bones. They stabilize the upper and lower ankle and thus the entire foot.
How does a foot ligament sprain happen?
An ankle ligament sprain mainly occurs if the foot is twisted excessively to the inside or the outside. This often happens during exercise, but it can just as well occur in everyday life – for example when overlooking a curb and twisting your ankle. As the ankle is usually rolled over the outer edge of the foot, the lateral collateral ligament is affected in most cases (supination trauma). However, inward twisting over the inner edge of the foot is not uncommon either and can result in severe ligament injuries that may also affect the inner joint capsule. This leads to a loss of stability in the joint as the foot ligaments can no longer properly fulfil their purpose.
How do I identify a sprained ligament in the ankle?
If you experience pain right after excessively twisting your foot to the inside or outside, or if the foot can no longer bear weight without pain, an ankle ligament injury is likely the cause. Depending on the severity of the injury, swelling (edema) or bruising may occur.
You should absolutely take these symptoms seriously and consult a physician. Only your physician can clarify whether a sprained or even a torn ligament is at the root of your pain – a layperson will not be able to differentiate between the two in most cases. What is more, a physician can reliably identify the scope of the injury and detect or rule out complications such bony avulsions, where a fragment of bone has been pulled away, or capsule injuries.
How is an ankle ligament injure treated?
As a first aid measure, you should immobilize, elevate and cool the affected joint – the earlier, the better. Absolutely avoid any further strain. If there is swelling, targeted compression can help mitigate it.
The medical treatment depends on the severity of the injury and on whether joint capsules or bones are also affected. Usually, surgery is only necessary in the case of complete ligament tears or avulsion fractures – in the case of mild ligament sprains or partial tears, a conservative treatment plan with physiotherapy and relief is usually sufficient.
Physiotherapeutic treatment should ideally begin after a short phase of immobilization. In addition to coordination and strength training, treatment with ice or cold air and lymphatic drainage (in case of pronounced edema) can support therapeutic exercise.
The recovery may take several months, depending on the severity of the injury. Even lighter cases of sprained ligaments impact joint stability. This means a higher risk of another, possibly more severe injury. Therefore, giving the joint external stability by wearing an ankle support is very helpful.
How can an ankle support help?
An ankle support such as MalleoTrain stabilizes your joint, takes strain away from the injured ligaments and can help reduce pain. As wearing a support also promotes the reduction of edemas and effusions, your recovery is supported even more effectively. This helps you return to mobility slowly and steadily, leaving your pain and injury behind.
Training for your ankle
You can also do something to increase your ankle stability at home: the Bauerfeind Treatment App will provide you with a personalized training program. Simple exercises will help you to strengthen your foot muscles, thus stabilizing your ankle.