What Is An Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain occurs when excessive force is placed on one or more ligaments in the ankle joint. This excessive force causes ligaments to over-stretch and/or tear. Ligaments are structures that stabilize joints by running from one bone to another. They provide strength, control and proprioceptive feedback (letting your body know where and how it is moving). Ankle sprains are much more common in the lateral or outer ankle but can also occur in the medial or inner ankle. Ankle sprains range from mild to severe – depending on the damage to the involved ligaments. If you are unable to put weight through the injured ankle or your ankle is extremely swollen then a visit to a doctor or physical therapist for examination is warranted. Upon examination – ankle sprains are graded into three levels:
- Grade I Sprain (Mild)
- Slight stretching and microscopic tearing of the involved ligament(s)
- Low-level tenderness and swelling in the involved area
- Grade II Sprain (Moderate)
- Partial tearing of the involved ligament(s)
- Mid-level tenderness and swelling around the ankle
- When moving the ankle in certain ways, there is a noticeable looseness in the ankle
- Grade III Sprain (Severe)
- Complete tear of the involved ligament(s)
- Significant tenderness and swelling around the ankle
- Significant instability of the ankle is noted if manually moved in certain directions
Most ankle sprains are mild in nature and can repair themselves simply with the P.R.I.C.E. method in a relatively short period of time. Others fall into grades II and III, however, and these require further measures in the form of diagnostic imaging (X-Ray, MRI, etc.), immobilization, crutches, physical therapy and/or surgery. Moderate to severe ankle sprains can take months to over a year before things feel “normal” again. Once a ligament is sprained, however, it will never return to the level of strength and proprioceptive feedback it was able to provide prior to injury. This is the reason that people often fall victim to multiple ankle sprains as the stability of that area is always compromised.
Symptoms of Ankle Sprains
- Swelling – more prominent with more severe sprains
- Bruising – worse and more widespread with more severe sprains
- Tenderness – worse and more widespread with more severe sprains
- Noticeable instability about the involved area of the ankle
- Pain – with putting pressure through the ankle and with moving the ankle in certain directions
Preventing Ankle Sprains
Many people don’t realize that a lot of ankle sprains can be attributed to weakness or mobility deficit further up towards the core, hips and knees. Making consistent efforts to build strength, control, endurance and mobility through the core, hips and legs will significantly reduce one’s risk of spraining their ankle(s). Muscle groups you want to target for strengthening and control to prevent ankle sprains include: the transverse abdominus, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, piriformis, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior and peroneals.
Also, making sure to properly warm-up and stretch your entire lower body prior to any athletic activities helps to prevent ankle sprains. Muscle groups you want to be sure to stretch prior to a walk, run or any other athletic activity in order to prevent ankle sprains include: piriformis, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus and tibialis anterior. I recommend stretching each muscle group as follows: 45 second repetitions x 3 for each side. Dynamic warm-ups are another great way to get your body ready for activity and limit risk of ankle sprains.
Here is a great article outlining the benefits of a dynamic warm-up as well as some examples for the upper body, lower body and for runners – just click this link: DYNAMIC WARM-UP
Finally, working on balance and proprioception is an excellent way to reduce your chances of spraining your ankle. Improving your balance and proprioception helps you with control, coordination and stability when you’re on your feet. Balance and proprioception can be trained in both static (not moving) and dynamic (involving movement) manners. Have you ever stepped on a tree branch or in a soft patch of sand while walking or running and nearly lost your balance? This is an example of an easy way to sprain your ankle but someone with high levels of balance and proprioception are much less likely to sustain any injury as they are capable of withstanding such incidents.
How Can Your Place PT Help Limit Your Injury Risk And Keep You Active?
If you’re unsure of how to properly improve your flexibility, strength, joint mobility, balance or proprioception as mentioned above – Dr. Allen would love the opportunity to help show you how. Your Place PT offers completely FREE injury risk assessments to help you understand if you may be at risk. If you’re on the fence about physical therapy, we also offer your first visit FREE in an effort to build a relationship with you and help you understand how physical therapy may benefit you.
Simply reach out via any of the methods of contact listed below to discuss details further.
Phone: (904) 537 – 0301