However, there are many treatment options for sprained ankles that can help you manage your pain and (hopefully) avoid surgery.
Before we dive into the treatment options, let’s look further into sprained ankles and how they’re diagnosed. Here’s everything you need to know about sprained ankles, from what they are and how to take care of them.
What is a Sprained Ankle?
A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments that hold your bonds together tear or snap completely. Ligaments are strong bands of tough tissue that connect your bones. When enough pressure is placed onto a ligament, it could rip.
How Severity is Graded
When it comes to diagnosing sprained ankles, there are a few different levels of severity. These grades are important, as they help to determine what your treatment plan will look like and how long your injury will take to heal completely.
- Grade I sprains are generally painful but there is minimal damage to the ligaments. They’ll take the shortest amount of time to heal and will rarely require intense treatment of any kind.
- Grade II sprains have more damage to the ligaments and will cause the joint to loosen a bit. These types of sprains may require at-home treatment and occasionally physical therapy.
- Grade III sprains occur when the ligament tears completely. Because of this, the joint becomes very unstable. These require the most intense treatment and sometimes surgery.
There are also two different types of sprained ankles, the inversion sprain, and the eversion sprain. When the foot falls inwards and the outer ligaments rip, it becomes an inversion sprain.
When the foot twists outward and the inner ligaments tear or rip, it is an eversion sprain.
What Causes a Sprained Ankle?
There are many ways that a sprained ankle occurs. But most common injuries occur when someone rolls or twists their ankle in a weird way, causing the ligament to tear or rip completely because of the pressure and the angle of its placement.
Common causes of sprained ankles include:
- Landing wrong when running or jumping, especially when landing on an uneven surface
- Stepping off the curb or another type of step wrong
- Slipping on ice or a spill
- Tripping on a whole in the ground
How are They Diagnosed?
Sprained ankles are diagnosed by visiting a doctor. Whether it’s your primary care doctor or an emergency room physician, you’ll be able to get the diagnosis you’re looking for through examination and imaging technology.
First, your doctor will perform a physical examination by looking at your foot and ankle. This examination may be painful, as they will move your ankle in different positions and press on your ligaments. However, this is the best way to see if your ankle is sprained without having to do any expensive imaging tests.
Imagining tests are then used to confirm the amount of damage and the grade of your sprain in order to determine the best course of action for your treatment. Depending on your doctor, you may receive one or more of the following imaging tests:
- Stress x-ray to rule out bone fractures
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle
If you believe that you’ve sprained your ankle, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Pain, especially when putting pressure on the affected foot
- Tenderness when touched
- Poor range of motion
- Popping sensation or sound at the time of your injury
Remember that ankle sprain symptoms may differ, especially across the different types and grades of sprained ankles. Someone who has a grade III injury will experience much more pain than someone with a grade I injury. Medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDsS) and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or naproxen sodium may be enough to manage the pain.
Treating Your Sprained Ankle
Now that we’ve learned about sprained ankles and how they occur, it’s time to look into your treatment options. Depending on the severity of your sprained ankle, your doctor will create your treatment plan.
You should follow the exact treatment plan for best results and the quickest healing time. If you don’t stay off your feet, you could exacerbate the injury and make it worse, causing your healing time to lengthen.
Most treatment plans will include three phases to help you get from injured to back on your feet. Those phases are as follows:
- Phase 1: Rest and relaxation, protecting the ankle from further injury and reducing swelling.
- Phase 2: Restoring any range of motion you may have lost while working on strength and flexibility.
- Phase 3: Maintenance and return to regular activities and normal life.
Depending on the severity of your injury, the phases may be longer or shorter, ranging from two weeks to three months total.
The RICE Protocol
For most types and grades of ankle sprains, your doctor will recommend RICE.
RICE is a very simple protocol that can help ease the pain that you’re feeling. For minor sprains, this may be the only treatment you need. For severe sprains, you’ll use the RICE method, alongside other treatment options.
- Rest your ankle by staying off of it as much as you can.
- Ice your ankle to keep the swelling done. You can place an ice pack on it for 20 to 30 minutes a few times a day.
Ice therapy can be used to constrict the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the ankle and surrounding tissues. Alternate with heating packs and even a hot bath to help aid the healing process.
- Compression dressing, such as elastic bandages and wraps, will help to immobilize the ankle.
- Elevate your ankle and keep it above the level of your heart as much as you can, especially for the first 48 hours. Proper elevation will help reduce swelling by draining excess fluid.
Crutches are a great way to walk around when walking is otherwise difficult. They’re most often used within the first few days of injury if walking is absolutely necessary.
In most cases, you’ll want to avoid being on your feet as much as possible, but if you absolutely need to move around, crutches are a great solution.
Immobilization is an incredibly important part of healing. When you tear the ligament in your ankle it causes the joint to loosen because there’s nothing to support it.
When the joint is loose, it causes pain by moving around easily. Stabilizing and immobilizing the joint will prevent you from being in too much pain while also keeping the joint in the correct spot so it heals properly.
Casts and ankle braces are a great way to do this. Braces are generally used for minor sprains, as they can be taken off more easily. Severe sprains may require the use of a short leg cast for the first few weeks of treatment.
Rehabilitation is a crucial step in the healing process. When you’re able to start putting some weight on your ankle again, your doctor may encourage you to see a physical therapist to help with your range of motion and ankle strength.
Seeing a physical therapist will prevent you from developing chronic ankle pain associated with your sprain.
To prevent stiffness from occurring, your therapist will work with you to improve the motion of your ankle. These exercises may hurt at first, but they’re important to ensuring strong ankles at the end of the healing process.
In addition, they will also work with you on strengthening exercises to strengthen your muscles after not using them for weeks.
Finally, there are surgical treatments available to those who have severely sprained ankles, typically grade III injuries. There are two options available, arthroscopy and reconstruction.
- Arthroscopy: Your doctor will use a small camera to look inside your ankle joint. They will then use small instruments to remove loose fragments, bone, or cartilage. If there are parts of your ligament caught in the joint, those will be removed as well.
This surgery is meant to ensure proper healing. While it won’t fix the sprain, it will ensure that it’s healing on the right path.
- Reconstruction: With reconstruction surgery, your doctor will repair the torn ligament by stitching it back together. They may also replace it with a tissue graft that was removed from another ligament or tendon.
Reconstruction surgery is meant to reconstruct severely ripped ligaments, making the healing process smoother.
After surgery, you’ll have to go through a similar healing process with immobilization, crutches, and RICE.
How to Treat Your Sprained Ankle at Home
If you’re looking to treat your sprained ankle at home, you may want to consider trying a pain cream alongside your other treatment options. Pain creams will melt away pain associated with inflammation and swelling.
Our hemp-infused pain cream will be perfect for your sprained ankle. While it won’t heal you, it will help relieve the pain you’re feeling, making healing a breeze.