Regardless of your age, ankle sprains are common. About 25,000 ankle sprains occur daily and more than 70 percent are recurring ankle sprains that never completely healed. The following questions and answers should guide you in recognizing an ankle sprain and knowing what to do.
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Ankle Sprains FAQs
1. What is a sprained ankle?
An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments (elastic-like fibers) that surround the ankle joint become injured. A sprain happens when the ankle rolls, turns or twists beyond its normal motion and is more severe if the ligaments are torn rather than stretched. Significant bruising around the joint and into the foot may be a sign of torn ligaments.
2. What can I do to reduce swelling?
You can control the inflammation, reduce pain and swelling by using the R.I.C.E treatment: 1) Rest the injured ankle (using crutches or walking boot if needed) 2) Ice for 10 to 20 minutes with a half-hour break in between treatments 3) Compress the injury by wrapping the ankle in a bandage 4) Elevate the foot at least 30 degrees above heart level when possible. It is ideal to elevate while icing. Gradually improving your mobility will aid in recovery, decrease swelling and increase strength. A good way to achieve better mobility is working the foot up and down, side to side and in circular motions. It is important to work on not limping, as this changes the gait pattern and prolongs recovery. Rehabilitation involves strength, balance and functional exercises to transition you back into your regular activity.
3. How long will it take to recover?
While the length of recovery time depends on the severity of the injury, most sprains require two to six weeks to heal. Overall, treatment of a sprain involves three steps: control inflammation, regain strength and range of motion and restore the endurance level and muscle control required for your activity.
4. When should I see my physician?
Two important reasons to see your physician are to rule out a fracture and to reduce the risk for recurring sprains. If the injury is unusually painful, you may want to be evaluated. Constant aching, night pain and inability to bear weight on your ankle for four steps can be a sign of a fracture. Since the most important risk factor for ankle sprains is a previous sprain, you may decide to see a physician to lower the risk for recurring problems.
5. When can I return to play?
Returning to play is recommended as soon as the ankle is back to full strength and movement and the activity is performed without pain. Traditionally, athletes follow the “rule of 20s” which indicates returning to play when they can run 20 yards, cut 20 times, hop 20 times and balance with eyes closed for 20 seconds on the injured foot without problems.
6. Can I prevent future sprains by wearing a brace?
Since risk for re-injury spans up to 12 months, additional support and training may be important to a full recovery. Braces should be worn during all high-risk activities. Completing all phases of rehabilitation are recommended for full recovery.
Stephanie Florence is a foot and ankle specialist with UPMC Susquehanna Foot & Ankle at Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital. For more information about Foot and Ankle related injuries, call 570-724-5297.
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