Podiatry Foundation of Pittsburgh
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Podiatry Foundation of Pittsburgh
c/o Nigro Ankle and Foot Care
1601 Union Ave. Suite B
Natrona Heights PA 15065

Ankle Sprains

Ankle Sprains 101

Sprains are injuries to ligaments connecting bones together; they occur when ligaments are stretched or torn.

Ankle sprains are often the result of trauma, an unstable ankle or an athletic injury. Symptoms of an ankle sprain depend on its severity: the ankle may be tender, swollen or discolored and can be painful to touch.

Unless a broken bone is obvious, it may be difficult to tell if an injury is a strain, sprain, fracture or dislocation. Minor ankle sprains can be treated at home. Recommended home treatment is rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE).

  • Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injured joint for at least 24 to 48 hours
  • Ice: Apply ice or cold packs* wrapped in a thin towel to reduce pain and swelling and promote healing
  • Compression: Wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage to compress the sprain
  • Elevation: Whenever possible, elevate the injury to reduce swelling

*A heating pad, hot water bottle or warm towel may be used after 72 hours of cold treatments if the swelling is gone.

Severe sprains, however, require professional medical care. If an ankle sprain causes rapid swelling, localized tenderness, limping or ongoing night pain, a podiatric surgeon should be seen immediately to rule out a fracture or ligament tear. Fractures of the ankle bone require immediate diagnosis and treatment for complete healing.

Treatment of Ankle Sprains

Podiatric surgeons classify ankle sprains by three "types," ranging from mild to moderate to severe:

  • A mild sprain (grade 1) is simply an overstretched ligament
  • A more severe sprain (grade 2) can involve a partial tear in the ligament
  • A (grade 3) sprain involves a complete tear

By classifying an ankle sprain, the podiatric surgeon can diagnose the specific structures involved with the injury. Classification also helps determine treatment plans for an ankle sprain. X-rays may be taken of the ankle and foot to determine the extent of the damage. In some cases, additional tests may be necessary.

Once a diagnosis is made, the podiatric surgeon determines the appropriate treatment plan, which might include:

  • Non-weightbearing activities
  • The use of crutches to support the ankle
  • Supports, such as a bandage, splint or cast
  • Ankle strengthening activities
  • Braces or special shoes to prevent future injuries
  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy to regain strength

Most minor ankle sprains heal in less than two months; however, more severe cases might take longer to heal. Severe ankle sprains, repeated sprains and fractures might require surgery. These conditions often respond well to surgical procedures. If properly treated, a completely healed ankle can tolerate normal activities and sports.