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Ankle injuries are often thought of as sports injuries—but you don’t have to be an athlete or even a “weekend warrior” to turn your ankle and hurt it. The truth is that a sprained ankle is a very common injury. A strained or sprained ankle can happen to athletes and non-athletes, children and adults. It can happen when you take part in sports and physical fitness activities. It can also happen when you simply step on an uneven surface, or step down at an angle.
Ankle sprains are caused by an injury that stresses a joint and overstretches or even ruptures the supporting ligaments, which connect bone to bone. Ankle strains, on the other hand, are typically caused when too much force is placed on muscles or tendons, which connect muscle to bone.
The best way to prevent ankle sprains and strains is to maintain good strength, muscle balance and flexibility. Plus, be sure to do the following:
Sprains are usually noticeable when they occur. But sometimes, a minor sprain will happen without your noticing. The primary symptoms of sprains include limited mobility, inflammation, pain, swelling and bruising. Strains are often accompanied by pain, cramping, swelling, muscle spasms, and stiffness or soreness in the muscle. As with sprains, you may be aware of the exact movement or activity that created the strain, or you may notice symptoms only later.
To diagnose ankle sprains and strains, your doctor will look at the impacted area and ask questions about the injury or accident. He or she may also order X-rays to ensure that you don’t have a broken bone in the ankle or foot. A broken bone can have similar symptoms of pain and swelling. If there is no broken bone, the doctor may be able to tell you the grade of your ankle sprain based upon the amount of swelling, pain and bruising. The doctor may order a MRI, after the period of swelling and bruising resolves, if he or she suspects a severe injury to the ligaments, injury to the joint surface, a small bone chip or other problem. The MRI can make sure that the diagnosis is correct.
Minor ankle sprains and strains may heal on their own with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Over-the-counter or prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and bracing may also be used to alleviate discomfort and swelling. Moderate sprains may need to be immobilized with air splits or cast-boots for 1 or more weeks. If symptoms persist or your sprain is severe, surgery may be required to repair the fully torn ligament. Surgery involves reconnecting the ligament to the bone. Your doctor will discuss the surgical options that best meet the needs of your injury.