Ankle sprain is the most common foot and lower leg injury in both athletes and people who have sedentary lifestyles. It can happen when landing from jumping or running on an uneven surface, but also when stepping off a curb or simply when getting out of bed.
The ligaments are elastic, band-like structures that hold the bones of the ankle joint together and prevent excess turning and twisting of the joint. When the ligaments are stretched beyond their normal limits, injuries to the ligaments result, which are most commonly referred to as sprains.
The symptoms of ankle sprain may vary from moderate pain and swelling of the ankle to severe pain accompanied by throbbing, redness and warmth in the ankle, or even bruising and a feeling of instability.
The "RICE" method of treatment of ankle sprains is recommended for the early stage and self-care at home. The goal of this treatment is to reduce inflammation, since that is what causes most of the pain.
Rest is very important especially in the first 24-48 hours after the injury in order to avoid stress on already inflamed tissue and to prevent more damage. On the other hand, prolonged immobilization of ankle sprains is a common treatment error, so it is also important to start a proper rehabilitation program and gradually put weight back on the ankle. (I will develop this point more in a separate article).
Ice applied to the injury will counteract the increased blood flow to the injured area and reduce the swelling, redness and warmth. If applied soon after the injury, ice can prevent much of the inflammation from developing. Ice should only be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time with at least 30 minutes between applications so as to prevent frostbite.
Compression will help milk edema fluid away from the injured tissues, so it is recommended to wrap the ankle with an elastic bandage.
Elevation helps the body absorb the fluid that has leaked into the tissue. The ankle should be elevated 6 to 10'' (15 to 25 cm) above the level of the heart to stimulate drainage until the swelling begins to decrease.
Even if not very severe, ankle sprains can be quite annoying since they can make it difficult to carry out daily activities. They are even more so for athletes, who find themselves isolated from the rest of the team and held back from the training which is very important for their career.