What Is an Ankle Sprain?
An ankle sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments in the ankle, usually on the outside of the ankle. Ligaments are bands of tissue—like rubber bands—that connect one bone to another and bind the joints together. In the ankle joint, ligaments provide stability by limiting side-to-side movement.
Some ankle sprains are much worse than others. The severity of an ankle sprain depends on whether the ligament is stretched, partially torn or completely torn, as well as on the number of ligaments involved. Ankle sprains are not the same as strains, which affect muscles rather than ligaments.
Sprained ankles often result from a fall, a sudden twist or a blow that forces the ankle joint out of its normal position. Ankle sprains commonly occur while participating in sports, wearing inappropriate shoes or walking or running on an uneven surface.
Sometimes ankle sprains occur because a person is born with weak ankles. Previous ankle or foot injuries can also weaken the ankle and lead to sprains.
The symptoms of ankle sprains may include:
Pain or soreness
Stiffness in the joint
Ankle fractures are common injuries most often caused by the ankle rolling inward or outward. Many people mistake an ankle fracture for an ankle sprain, but they are quite different and therefore require an accurate and early diagnosis. They sometimes occur simultaneously.
Why Prompt Medical Attention Is Needed
There are four key reasons why an ankle sprain should be promptly evaluated and treated by a foot and ankle surgeon:
An untreated ankle sprain may lead to chronic ankle instability, a condition marked by persistent discomfort and a giving way of the ankle. Weakness in the leg may also develop.
A more severe ankle injury may have occurred along with the sprain. This might include a serious bone fracture that, if left untreated, could lead to troubling complications.
An ankle sprain may be accompanied by a foot injury that causes discomfort but has gone unnoticed thus far.
Rehabilitation of a sprained ankle needs to begin right away. If rehabilitation is delayed, the injury may be less likely to heal properly.
In evaluating your injury, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain a thorough history of your symptoms and examine your foot. X-rays or other advanced imaging studies may be ordered to help determine the severity of the injury.
When you have an ankle sprain, rehabilitation is crucial—and it starts the moment your treatment begins. Your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
Rest. Stay off the injured ankle. Walking may cause further injury.
Ice. Apply an ice pack to the injured area, placing a thin towel between the ice and the skin. Use ice for 20 minutes and then wait at least 40 minutes before icing again.
Compression. An elastic wrap may be recommended to control swelling.
Elevation. The ankle should be raised slightly above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.
Early physical therapy. Your doctor will start you on a rehabilitation program as soon as possible to promote healing and increase your range of motion. This includes doing prescribed exercises.
Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, prescription pain medications are needed to provide adequate relief.
When Is Surgery Needed?
In more severe cases, surgery may be required to adequately treat an ankle sprain. Surgery often involves repairing the damaged ligament or ligaments. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the surgical procedure best suited for your case based on the type and severity of your injury as well as your activity level.
After surgery, rehabilitation is extremely important. Completing your rehabilitation program is crucial to a successful outcome. Be sure to continue to see your foot and ankle surgeon during this period to ensure that your ankle heals properly and function is restored.
Sometimes initial treatment for ingrown toenails can be safely performed at home. However, home treatment is strongly discouraged if an infection is suspected, or for those who have medical conditions that put feet at high risk, such as diabetes, nerve damage in the foot, or poor circulation.
If you don’t have an infection or any of the above medical conditions, you can soak your foot in room-temperature water (adding Epsom’s salt may be recommended by your doctor), and gently massage the side of the nail fold to help reduce the inflammation.
Avoid attempting "bathroom surgery." Repeated cutting of the nail can cause the condition to worsen over time. If your symptoms fail to improve, it’s time to see a foot and ankle surgeon.
After examining the toe, the foot and ankle surgeon will select the treatment best suited for you. If an infection is present, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed.
Sometimes a minor surgical procedure, often performed in the office, will ease the pain and remove the offending nail. After applying a local anesthetic, the doctor removes part of the nail’s side border. Some nails may become ingrown again, requiring removal of the nail root.
Following the nail procedure, a light bandage will be applied. Most people experience very little pain after surgery and may resume normal activity the next day. If your surgeon has prescribed an oral antibiotic, be sure to take all the medication, even if your symptoms have improved.
Preventing Ingrown Toenails
Many cases of ingrown toenails may be prevented by:
Proper trimming. Cut toenails in a fairly straight line, and don’t cut them too short. You should be able to get your fingernail under the sides and end of the nail.
Well-fitted shoes and socks. Don’t wear shoes that are short or tight in the toe area. Avoid shoes that are loose, because they too cause pressure on the toes, especially when running or walking briskly.
What You Should Know About Home Treatment
Don't cut a notch in the nail. Contrary to what some people believe, this does not reduce the tendency for the nail to curve downward.
Don't repeatedly trim nail borders. Repeated trimming does not change the way the nail grows, and can make the condition worse.
Don't place cotton under the nail. Not only does this not relieve the pain, it provides a place for harmful bacteria to grow, resulting in infection.
Over-the-counter medications are ineffective. Topical medications may mask the pain, but they don’t correct the underlying problem.