Millions of people sprain their ankles every year. Whether they are walking their dog, going for a run, or bringing in the groceries, everyday activities can result in an ankle sprain.
Luckily, most ankle sprains are minor injuries that do not require an orthopedic specialist or doctor to heal. Other sprains require immediate medical care for the best outcomes. But, how do you know if you sprained your ankle in a way that requires medical attention?
EmergeOrtho is here to help you learn how to diagnose an ankle sprain and whether you need to see a doctor. If you do need medical treatment, our team of board-certified orthopedic surgeons will provide the highest quality care from diagnosis through recovery, helping you Emerge Stronger. Healthier. Better.
What is an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain is when the ankle’s ligaments get overly stretched or torn because of a movement that exceeds their range of motion.
The most common type of ankle sprain is a lateral ankle sprain or inversion injury, where the foot rolls inward. In other words, it occurs when the bottom of a foot rolls inward to face the other foot, damaging the ligaments on the outside of the foot. Many people get a lateral ankle sprain from running or everyday activities that cause them to roll an ankle.
Although they are less common, it is possible to have a “high ankle sprain,” also known as a syndesmotic sprain. These often occur from a twisting injury of the leg and may occur along with a standard ankle sprain. Finally, it is also possible to have a sprain of the deltoid ligament on the inner, or medial, part of the ankle. These injuries usually heal, but may take a long time to improve, and may lead to chronic foot and ankle problems as well.
How Do You Know if You Sprained Your Ankle
If you roll your foot or perform a movement that ends in a painful ankle, the following symptoms may indicate a sprain:
- A feeling of ankle instability
- Swelling around your ankle
- Popping noise at the time of injury
- Ankle pain when weight bearing
- Restricted range of motion
Any of these symptoms should prompt a visit to a doctor for an exam and possible treatment.
The Grades of Ankle Sprains
Not all ankle sprains are the same. Some are minor and can be treated at home with rest and ice, while others require immediate medical attention. Generally, there are three grades of sprains that your injury could fit. Regardless of the grade of injury, being evaluated by an Orthopedic professional is never a bad idea.
Grade I injuries cause only minimal tearing of the ligaments in the ankle to occur. Therefore, the injury is mostly an overstretching of those tissues, and without any permanent damage. They commonly result in mild tenderness, swelling, and pain, as well as slight bruising or skin discoloration. In addition, grade I sprains will still allow you to walk with some discomfort.
To heal a grade I sprain, we recommend that you use the R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) technique. Grade I sprains should heal with proper rest within one to three weeks. However, if you rush the healing process and do physical activity that your ankle is not ready for, you risk elevating your injury to a grade II or III.
Grade II sprains occur when there is moderate tearing of ligaments, meaning there are still enough intact fibers to support the tissues’ structural integrity. Grade II sprains result in moderate pain, swelling, and tenderness. However, there may be some decrease in range of motion and ankle instability. Additionally, grade II sprains will make walking moderately uncomfortable.
Unlike a grade I, a grade II ankle sprain usually will not heal without assistance. If you skip a professional opinion, you could drag out your sprained ankle recovery for months and even years. A provider will typically prescribe a boot or robust brace to support the joint. Additionally, you may need physical therapy to obtain a complete recovery and prevent chronic ankle instability. Grade II sprains typically heal in under two months with proper medical attention.
Grade III sprains refer to a complete tear or rupture of the affected ligaments. No fibers are left intact, resulting in severe swelling, tenderness, and pain, and, most notably, instability. Grade III sprains make it very difficult to walk or put any weight on the ankle and may result in obvious bruising.
A grade III sprain is a severe injury that requires medical assistance. In addition, you often require robust physical therapy for several months to rehabilitate your ankle. Surgical interventions ultimately may even be necessary, particularly if your injury has recurred or your rehabilitation just is not progressing over a period of several months. Following ankle ligament surgery and time in a brace or boot, physical therapy will be a critical component of the road to regaining your ankle function.
Next Steps to Heal Your Sprained Ankle
Sprained ankles can be significant sources of discomfort. Depending on the severity of the sprain, it can persist for months or even years without medical help. Therefore, if you do not know if you sprained your ankle badly, we recommend playing it safe and seeing a foot and ankle specialist.
EmergeOrtho Foot and Ankle Specialists and our orthopedic urgent care providers treat hundreds of sprained ankles every year. Do not let a prolonged ankle sprain keep you from what you enjoy doing most, or turn into something worse!
Contact us today or request an appointment for an examination or to have your questions answered.
Emerge Stronger. Healthier. Better.