What is an ankle sprain?
An ankle sprain occurs when you roll, twist, or turn your ankle in such a way that the ligaments are stretched beyond their range and tear. This usually happens accidentally by tripping on an uneven surface, falling, or through particular sports. The type of sprain will depend on how many ligaments have torn, and the severity of the injury. Most ankle sprains occur as a result of the foot turning inward. This affects the anterior talofibular (ATFL) ligament and the calcaneofibular (CFL) ligament on the outside of the ankle. If the foot turns outward, this affects the deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle and can also damage the syndesmosis, creating a higher-grade injury. Symptoms include pain, swelling, redness and tenderness. It may be difficult to bear weight.
How are they treated?
Sprains can range in severity from tiny tears through to complete detachment. It’s important to see a doctor to diagnose the extent of the injury, and the treatment will depend on the severity of the sprain:
Grade 1 sprain: Slight tearing with swelling and tenderness
Treatment: Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevation (RICE)
Grade 2 sprain: Partial tearing, with instability and swelling
Treatment: Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevation (RICE) with more time allowance for healing, and possible splint to immobilise ankle
Grade 3 sprain: Complete ligament tear, significant swelling, severe pain and ankle instability
Treatment: Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevation (RICE), ankle protection and possible ankle surgery.
If your ankle sprain is not responding to treatment, your doctor may recommend an ankle arthroscopy to investigate the cause. In severe cases, ankle reconstruction surgery may be recommended to strengthen the ligaments and restore stability to the ankle joint.
How long do they last?
Many ankle sprains, even the most severe, can be treated without surgery. Mild sprains can recover within 2 weeks using the RICE treatment approach, followed by functional exercises designed to strengthen the joint and increase the range of motion. In more severe cases, or with ankle reconstruction surgery, a recovery can take up to 12 weeks. Strengthening exercises are crucial to protecting the weakened ligaments and preventing future strains.
Other ankle surgeries and procedures
Common ankle conditions
Other Ankle Surgeries and Procedures
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