An ankle sprain is a stretching or tearing of a ligament in the ankle. Ligaments are strong fibrous tissues that connect bone to bone. Their function is to stabilize the joint. A sprain may be classified as Mild (grade I), Moderate (grade II), or Severe (grade III), depending on how much of the ligament was stretched or torn.
What causes Ankle Sprains?
The most common cause of a sprained ankle is an inversion injury. This occurs when the foot is suddenly turned inward, causing damage to the outside (lateral) ligaments. It is less common for the foot to be turned outward, called eversion, so sprains of the inner (medial) ligaments are less common. An ankle sprain may be suspected after an injury when pain, swelling, and/or bruising occur.
Classification of Sprains
How do Ankle Sprains Heal?
Ligaments and connective tissue have been torn and traumatized as a result of the sprain. Blood vessels, capillaries, and nerves may be damaged as well. The resulting escape of blood and tissue fluids produces swelling and bruising. Swelling may be intense for several days. The swollen tissues may become firm. The bruising (ecchymosis) may occur immediately or be delayed, or may spread to include the toes or lower portion of the heel. The bruise may be of various colorations, as the blood pigment is broken down by the body. The damaged ligaments and connective tissue are repaired by new fibrous tissue. This tissue is strong, but it is also less elastic. The entire healing process may not be completed for many weeks.
How to Treat an Ankle Sprain
When Should I Consult a Health Care Provider?
If a steady improvement in your ability to walk and run normally does not occur over 3-4 weeks, you should consult with a health care provider. This is especially important if it was felt that you did not need an x-ray for a mild sprain. Recurrent mild ankle sprains or ankle instability warrant an evaluation by a health care provider. A specific physical therapy regimen may need to be prescribed to treat or prevent these problems from recurring.