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What Does A Sprained Ankle Feel Like

by Lyndon Langley
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What Does A Sprained Ankle Feel Like

What Does A Sprained Ankle Feel Like

Sprains are not fun. They’re painful and they can be very debilitating for those who have them. Fortunately, most sprains aren’t serious enough that you need surgery. (In fact, if your injury doesn’t require medical attention, it’s probably best to go ahead and get checked out anyway.) Most people recover quickly from a minor sprain, but for some reason we always expect severe injuries like broken bones to hurt more than bruises do. And even though spraining an ankle hurts, the good news is that it happens so often in sports that there are many different ways to treat it. So how does a sprain differ from other types of trauma? What exactly happens when our ankles twist or roll over on us? How long should we rest after a sprain? And what’s the difference between a partial and full sprain? Let’s start with a quick anatomy lesson first…
Ankles are joints that connect the leg bone to the foot bone. The tibia bone makes up part of the lower end of the shinbone while the fibula connects the two together. At this point the lower ends of both bones meet in the middle of the ankle joint called the medial malleolus. The bottom part of the outermost layer of cartilage covering each side of the joint has been removed by erosion and wear-and-tear. This allows one end of the joint to move freely within its socket, which will help us understand what happens during a sprain. There are four ligaments that hold all these parts together: the anterior talofibular ligament, the posterior talofibular ligament, the calcaneofibular ligament and the deltoid ligament. These ligaments prevent excessive movement of the ankle joint. When any of these ligaments tear, the result is a sprain.
Now let’s talk about the common sprains that happen every day. First off, we’ll take care of the biggie – a complete dislocation of the ankle. This requires emergency medical attention because the patient needs to be seen by a doctor right away. Dislocations occur when the ankle rolls inward too far. It can also occur when someone steps on something sharp and turns their ankle suddenly. If you experience either of these scenarios, call 911 immediately. You need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
A fracture occurs when the ankle bends past its normal range of motion. That means that the person whose ankle is fractured didn’t suffer a direct blow to the ankle; instead they twisted it somehow. Fractures are generally caused by falling onto the injured ankle. The skin around the ankle will likely turn blue and purple due to pressure applied by the weight of the body above it. Sometimes the skin will actually break underneath the surface. A fracture takes longer to heal than a sprain does.
One of the most common sprains is a partial or incomplete rupture of the ligaments known as a syndesmosis injury. This term describes a situation where the fibers of the ligaments tearing apart. Syndesmosis injuries cause extreme instability of the ankle. People with these kinds of injuries tend to fall toward the affected leg. Pain is typically minimal since the ankle isn’t fully torn, although swelling and bruising may appear. Treatment involves immobilization. Patients should avoid walking until the wound heals completely. Partial ruptures only involve damage to the ligaments without dislocating the ankle. This type of injury can also be treated conservatively.
There are many reasons why people decide to play sports despite suffering from chronic health problems. Some athletes choose to ignore pain, especially if it’s related to an injury. For example, high school football players sometimes play through broken ribs, collarbones, and vertebrae just to stay on the field. Professional football players run headlong into tackles knowing they might sustain injuries, yet they never miss practice. Basketball star Yao Ming suffered multiple finger fractures and broke his nose several times before finally retiring in 2002. He played on with a broken wrist. The point is that some people put themselves at risk to play through pain, believing it won’t last long and they’ll bounce back sooner rather than later. However, ignoring pain increases the likelihood of further injury and scar tissue build-up. Athletes should follow the advice of their doctors and seek treatment immediately if they suspect that they’ve sustained an injury.
Pain associated with sprains are mostly muscular. Even though the ankle is damaged, the muscles don’t feel much of anything. All the muscle tissues surrounding the ankle are inflamed, making it extremely uncomfortable for patients. The discomfort is caused by swelling and inflammation of the tissues surrounding the ankle. Muscles that surround the ankle tendons become swollen and irritated as well. Inflammation causes increased blood flow to the region, causing heat and swelling. Heat and swelling make it difficult for patients to walk, leading to bed rest and immobility. Swelling continues to increase as fluid builds up under the skin. As the fluid accumulates, the ankle becomes increasingly stiff and less flexible. Stiffness leads to restricted movement of the ankle, which prevents proper healing.
When the ankle swells significantly, it can become difficult to fit shoes on. Socks and compression hosiery soften the skin and reduce friction against the shoe material. Doctors recommend wearing elastic support stockings to keep the legs elevated and prevent edema. Elevated feet create space between the sock and the floor, allowing the circulation to better absorb fluids. Compression bandages and wraps provide additional support to stop bleeding and promote recovery. After the swelling subsides, physical therapy helps maintain strength and flexibility.
So now that we know what a sprain feels like, what are some tips to try to minimize the effects of a sprain?
First, ice the injured area. Ice restricts blood flow, reducing swelling and promoting recovery. Apply iced packs wrapped in a thin cloth periodically throughout the day. Never use ice directly on the skin. Instead massage the pack in small circles over the area to apply cold. Leave the pack on for 15 minutes then repeat the process. Repeat this procedure three times daily. Use of aspirin and ibuprofen can inhibit the effectiveness of ice application. Ask your doctor about using such medications. Also, avoid putting hot water bottles or bags of frozen peas on top of the injured area. Doing so could burn the skin.
Next, elevate the ankle to decrease swelling. Elevate the leg by placing a rolled towel or soft pillow underneath the calf. Keep the leg raised for 20 to 30 minutes per hour. Do this for several hours each day. Try alternating periods of sitting and standing throughout the day. Sleeping with the leg elevated also helps.
If the ankle is still swollen after 48 hours, consult a physician. Don’t hesitate to visit a doctor if you notice symptoms like fever, redness of the skin, persistent drainage, increasing pain with activity, or obvious deformity of the injured area.
For a mild sprain, rest the ankle thoroughly, keeping it elevated. Avoid moving it excessively. Gentle stretching exercises are OK, but avoid running. Take anti-inflammatory medication to control pain and stiffness.
A moderate sprain calls for resting the ankle for 7 to 10 days and avoiding strenuous activities. Gradually resume light exercise, starting with walking on a supportive boot. Wear loose fitting clothing to allow easy bending of the foot. Over time, gradually add weight bearing exercises. Physical therapy is recommended for moderate sprains. Consult a doctor if pain persists after 2 weeks, or if there is significant swelling and deformity of the ankle.
Severe sprains call for prolonged rest. Consider having surgery to repair a severely torn tendon. Surgery is necessary if the injury cannot be repaired nonoperatively.
A full sprain is characterized by marked swelling. Resting is advised until swelling decreases. Then resume gentle exercises, and begin ambulation with flat-heeled supports. Full sprain victims should limit activity to no more than 1/2 mile per day. Walk carefully, slowly, and steadily. Avoid stairs, uneven surfaces, and twisting motions.
The length of time needed to recover depends upon the severity of the injury. Recovery usually begins after 5 days following the accident. During initial stages of recovery, the ankle should remain in a below-knee cast. Complete healing requires 3 months. Walking in a supportive boot may hasten recovery. Physical therapy is helpful to regain mobility and strengthen supporting structures.
Treatment options vary depending on the extent of the injury. In general, however, early intervention provides the best outcome. Early diagnosis followed by appropriate treatment reduces the chance of arthritis developing in the future. Arthritis develops when the joint capsule is damaged. Capsule tears lead to bursitis, which affects lubrication and cushioning capabilities of the joint. Tears in the meniscus lead to degenerative arthritis.
To learn more about ankle sprains, check out the links on the next page.
Most adults have sustained a sprained ankle at least once in their lives. But what does a sprained ankle look like? The majority of sprains affect the lateral or outside ankle, which is located on the inside of the foot. If someone suffers a sprain to the opposite ankle, it is referred to as a contralateral ankle sprain. Contusions, lacerations and burns are relatively uncommon.

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