Ankle sprain is a common injury that frequently occurs in sports requiring rapid changes of direction (basketball, soccer or football). However, it may also happen during moments of clumsiness of the foot, on unstable grounds. Find out in this article the right actions to adopt if you’re having a sprained ankle.

Characteristics of a sprained ankle

When talking about a sprained ankle, some terms can sometimes get mixed up. Let’s take stock together:

  • A strain is a stretched muscle;
  • A sprain occurs when you injure a muscle, tendon, ligament or other soft tissue surrounding the joints;
  • A fracture is a broken bone.

Difference between ankle inversion and eversion

In most cases, sprains occur when the foot turns inward, causing the sole of the foot to rotate toward the other foot. This is called an inversion sprain. It can occur when walking on uneven ground, on a rock or even when going down a sidewalk. An eversion sprain happens when the foot turns the other way, outward. It’s much less common, but it does happen!

3 stages of ankle sprain severity

In order to define the severity of the injury, doctors categorize sprains into 3 different stages:

  • Grade 1: a pulled ligament or microscopic tears of a few fibers. No instability is noted, the ankle is not too swollen and you can walk despite the pain. This is the most common and least serious type of sprain.
  • Grade 2: a partial tear of the affected ligament, an X-ray may be necessary to ensure that there is no fracture. The ankle is swollen and a bruise appears. Ice is necessary to cool down the wound.
  • Grade 3: a complete tear of the affected ligament, advanced medical control is recommended.

Recognizing an ankle sprain and the associated symptoms

In the event of a small sprain, the pain is generally moderate, along with variable swelling of the foot. The joint retains its mobility, but ligament distension persists.

During a moderate or severe ankle sprain, the pain is violent and intense, with a particularly swollen foot (edema), and the presence of a bruise (hematoma). The joint partially or completely loses its mobility. The patient has difficulty, or even an impossibility, to stand on the affected foot.

4 things to do quickly after a sprained ankle

In order to relieve the acute phase (phase of the most painful injury) of the sprained ankle, there is a specific action plan that we call RICE (Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation ).

  1. Rest

    It’s recommended to rest the injured ankle, but no longer than 48 to 72 hours, as using the joint promotes healing. If patients feel okay, they can try putting on as much weight as they can handle without too much pain, while gradually increasing the load. If necessary, they can use crutches.

  2. Ice

    Ice should be applied as soon as possible to minimize ankle swelling. Ice relieves pain, reduces inflammation and decreases swelling by constricting blood vessels. It should be applied so that it suits the shape of the injured area, for 10-12 minutes. It should be placed in a bag held with a bandage, not too tight so it doesn’t stop the blood circulation, but enough to allow compression which will stop the bleeding.

  3. Compression

    This step can be done at the same time as applying the ice. The affected area is wrapped with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling and bruising, and to support injured ligaments. Do not overtighten to avoid blocking blood circulation.

  4. Elevation

    Finally, it’s important to keep the ankle in a raised position, at least 10 cm higher than heart level. Thus, sitting with your foot on a stool is not effective. If possible, maintain elevation for 2-3 hours each day until pain and swelling reduce. This promotes the return of blood to the veins, and limits the accumulation of inflammation fluid around the injured area.

Consultation and medical examinations

In the event that a fracture is suspected in addition to the ankle sprain, the doctor may order an X-ray. The same way, if a rupture of one or more ligaments is suspected, he may recommend an MRI to the patient. These examinations tend to clarify the diagnosis and help with recovery.

Basic treatments to properly heal ankle sprains

Orthopedic equipment

When the sprain is severe, immobilization of the ankle may be required, in particular using a splint or orthosis. The doctor can prescribe one. In the case of an ankle fracture, a walking boot may be recommended as an alternative to plaster casts. Within the EVO Laboratory, qualified orthotists carry out a complete assessment of the patient’s condition, which makes it possible to discover the cause of the pain and direct him or her to the most effective orthotic treatment.

Physiotherapy and rehabilitation

After a sprain, it’s usually recommended to gradually go back to physical activities. Proprioception exercises are encouraged using elastic bands or balance boards. These movements help the ligaments regain their capacity, reduce stiffness and strengthen the muscles. If your injury is mild, you can start gentle exercises 24 hours after the sprain to promote mobility. A physiotherapist can help with rehabilitation and build a recovery plan with various exercises suited for home.

The surgery

In cases of severe sprains, surgery is sometimes considered, especially in people who use the damaged joint intensively, such as athletes or in cases of persistent instability of the joint.

Prevention for the resumption of sport

Yes, ankle sprains can be avoided! Here are some examples of good practices to implement to preserve your feet:

  • Avoid overworking your ankle;
  • Do not neglect rest after effort;
  • Take good care of previous injuries;
  • Practice regular physical activity without too much intensity;
  • Eat a balanced diet to ensure sufficient intake of nutrients for the body;

These habits help preserve the ligaments of the foot and thus reduce the risk of mild or severe ankle sprain. In addition, they are good ways to speed up recovery in the event of an accident. Finally, taking such precautions reduces the risk that repeated sprains will lead to a more serious pathology, such as osteoarthritis.

What you should remember

  • An ankle sprain is a rupture of the ligaments holding the ankle in place;
  • There are 3 levels of sprain severity: mild, moderate to severe and very severe;
  • The sprain can be either inversion (turning the foot inward) or eversion (turning the foot outward);
  • The best reflexes after a sprain are RICE (Rest – Ice – Compression – Elevation);
  • Diverse treatments can help patients heal: orthopedics, physiotherapy, surgery (when necessary), among others.