What is an ankle sprain?
Our bones are held together by strong, fibrous bands called ligaments. An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments that causes some of the fibres to stretch and tear. This damage often leads to pain, swelling, inflammation or bruising around the affected joint and difficulty putting weight on that foot. The more fibres that are torn, the worse the symptoms, and a complete tear may lead to an unstable joint. In some severe cases, small pieces of bone can be torn off with the ligament or bones are dislocated and fractured.
The most common ligaments to be affected are on the outer side of the ankle.
What causes an ankle sprain?
Ankle sprains occur when the joint is suddenly forced to move in an abnormal way. People often ‘go over’ on their ankle or twist it unexpectedly. Things that commonly cause ankle sprains include:
- Walking or running on uneven surfaces
- Falling over awkwardly
- Someone else standing on your foot whilst running e.g. when playing football
How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?
Usually, an ankle sprain can be diagnosed by a thorough examination from a specialist. They will test for any tenderness around the affected joint and see how much you are able to move your foot. Further investigations, such as an x-ray may be requested to rule out any broken bones. Severe sprains may require an MRI scan, in addition to an x-ray, to create a treatment plan.
Treatment and recovery
Most ankle sprains can be treated soon after injury using the PRICE method:
- Protect from further injury
- Rest your ankle
- Ice packs – for example, a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel
- Compression with a bandage
- Elevate your foot
All of these will help to reduce the pain and swelling, and the sprain should recover after a few days. If your ankle sprain does not recover after this time, you should seek advice. More severe sprains may need fitting with a boot and recovery should take between 6-12 weeks with physiotherapy.
If the ankle joint remains painful and unstable 6 months after injury, our specialists can perform further tests and create a detailed plan for further treatment. Surgery involves repair of the affected ligaments and recovery with a boot and physiotherapy. You should be able to put weight on your foot after 6 weeks, but full recovery can take up to 3-6 months.
 Orthoinfo.aaos.org. (2019). Sprained Ankle. [online] Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/sprained-ankle/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2019].
 Patient.info, Payne, J. (2019). Sprained Ankle. [online]. Available at: https://patient.info/health/sports-injuries/ankle-injury-sprained-ankle [Accessed 18 Jan. 2019].