Common Ankle Injuries and How to Treat Them

Our ankles are one of the most important parts of our body’s structure, and all too often, they get overlooked. It is where three bones meet, the tibia and fibula of your lower leg with the talus of your foot. These bones are held together at the ankle joint by ligaments, strong elastic bands of connective tissue that keep the bones in place while allowing normal ankle motion. Tendons then attach muscles to the bones to make the ankle and foot move, while keeping the joints stable. Because they are such a big part in helping us move, ankle injuries are very common. Something as simple as walking on an uneven surface and a quick accidental trip can cause a debilitating and sharply painful sprain. Every day in the U.S., 25,000 people of all ages sprain their ankle, adding up to over a million yearly. With these numbers, odds are, we’ll all get an ankle injury at some point. Let’s take a closer look at these injuries, and what you can do at home if you do get hurt.

What Kinds of Ankle Injuries Are There?

Ankle injury types are defined by the kind of tissue that’s damaged. The main types include bone, ligament, or tendon injuries. If there is a fracture, this means there is a break in one or more of the bones. A sprain is when there is damage to ligaments when they get stretched beyond their normal range of motion. A strain refers to damage to muscles and tendons as a result of being pulled or stretched too far.

What Causes Ankle Injuries?

An ankle injury occurs when the ankle joint is twisted too far out of its normal position. Injuries can also be caused by things stretching over a long period of time, or overusing a specific tendon or muscle. While a lot of ankle injuries occur either during sports activities, they can also be caused while walking on an uneven surface that forces the foot and ankle into an unnatural position. Another thing that causes this is the unnatural position of the ankle in high-heeled shoes or lose shoes like clogs. Other causes of ankle injuries include:

-Tripping or falling

-Walking or running on uneven surfaces

-A sudden impact such as a car crash

– Landing awkwardly after a jump

Signs of an Ankle Injury

The symptoms of a sprain or fracture are very similar to each other. Fractures are often mistaken for sprains. That’s why it’s important to have an ankle injury evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible. The signs include:

-Pain, (usually sudden and severe)

-Inability to walk or bear weight on injured foot

-Swelling

-Bruising

If there is a sprain, the ankle may also be stiff. With a fracture, the area will be tender to the touch, and the ankle may look deformed or out of place.

If the sprain is mild, the swelling and pain may be slight. But with a severe sprain, there is much swelling and the pain is typically intense.

What Should Someone Do After an Ankle Injury?

You can apply first aid for an ankle injury by remembering R.I.C.E: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. To begin, rest the ankle to prevent further damage and keep weight off of it. Next, you’ll want to use ice with a layer of cloth to help slow or reduce the swelling. This will also provide a numbing that will ease the pain. Make sure to never leave ice on for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time to prevent frostbite. Wait 40 minutes before applying ice again to allow tissues to return to normal. After you are done with the ice, wrap the injured ankle with an elastic bandage or off-the-shelf compression wrap to keep it immobile and supported. Don’t wrap the ankle too tightly. Finally, elevate the injured ankle to the level of your heart. This will reduce swelling and pain.

It is important to remember to not put any weight on the ankle until after a doctor has checked it. This should be done as soon as possible.  Fractures and sprains that aren’t treated properly (or worse, ignored) can lead to long-term chronic problems such as repeated injury, ankle weakness, and arthritis.