A sprained ankle can result from a wide range of accidents, from tripping over an obstacle or getting knocked down while playing contact sports to repetitive overuse, poor posture, or using improper form while working or exercising. Any of these actions can stretch the ligaments in the ankle beyond their limit. Ligaments are strong bands of tissues that hold the bones together. They work with the bones to support and stabilise various joints in the body, including the ankle. When the ligaments are stretched beyond their normal range of motion, they can tear resulting in an ankle sprain.
Symptoms Of A Sprained Ankle
Intense pain is the first indication that you may have sprained your ankle. The pain typically comes on immediately after the incident that caused your ankle to overstretch. Within a few minutes, the site of the injury starts to swell and throb, making it very painful to put that your down with any pressure.
Depending on the severity of the ligament tear, an ankle sprain can force you to stay off your feet for weeks or even months on end. If one or more of the ligaments are completely torn in the accident, there is a high risk that the ankle may become permanently unstable. This then increases the risk of damaging the cartilage and bones of the ankle joint as you try to over-compensate for the instability.
Regardless of how mild your sprained ankle may seem, it is important to start a treatment regimen as early as possible to prevent further damage. While you should definitely see a doctor for a severe ankle sprain, there are a few things you can do to speed up the healing process.
How To Treat A Sprained Ankle At Home
The treatment for a sprained ankle at home comprises of two stages. The first stage focuses on reducing the pain and swelling. Once the pain and swelling have subsided, the next stage of the treatment focuses on increasing the range of motion of the injured ankle and strengthening it.
The first stage of the treatment should commence immediately after the injury and continues for the first few days after injury. Taking an over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen might be the most effective way to reduce the initial pain and swelling. If you are unsure what treatment you should use then speak to the pharmacist for advice.
At this stage, it is equally important to follow the RICE protocol to stem the pain and swelling and promote healing and flexibility. RICE stands for ‘Rest’, ‘Ice’, ‘Compression’, and ‘Elevation’.
Here’s what the RICE method involves:
- Rest – This is so very important after an injury. If you continue to walk around, it puts unnecessary weight on the sprained ankle, which will delay the recovery and may actually make things worse. Resting the injured ankle is key to preventing further damage to the ligaments and ankle.
- Ice – Applying ice over an injured area is a trusted way to alleviate pain and swelling. Wrap an ice pack in a light towel and apply over your injured ankle for around 15-20 minutes. Do this every 2 – 3 hours during the initial 24 hours. If you do not possess an ice pack, a pack of frozen peas will work just as well. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
- Compression – Compressing the injury helps to stem the swelling. To do this, wrap the injured area lightly with an elastic crepe bandage. The compression should be snug enough to prevent further swelling but not too tightly that it obstructs your blood flow.
- Elevation – This involves elevating the injured ankle above the level of your heart while lying down. Doing this helps to ease the pain and throbbing, and reduce the swelling.
When You Should See A Doctor
It is advisable to see a doctor if the swelling and pain do not subside after 2-3 days. As a general rule, it is advisable to visit your doctor anyway after any injury to get a thorough check up and a proper diagnosis. If you have fractured your ankle, however minor, you could be doing more damage by continuing to use your ankle. A doctor will conduct a series of tests to determine the severity of your injury and prescribe the appropriate course of action.
If the swelling is severe and accompanied by bleeding, severe discolouration or numbness in the injured area, you must visit A&E immediately. Do not put this off for another day as any delay increases the risk of permanent injury to the ankle.
If the X-Ray shows a fracture, the doctor may recommend bracing your leg so as to stop any unnecessary movement of the joint for a couple of days. You may also be advised to use crutches to keep your ankle off the ground and speed up the healing process.
Physiotherapy exercises are often recommended when the initial ankle injury has healed sufficiently and you can move your ankle without any pain. These exercises help to strengthen your ankle and help you get back on your feet.
Reducing The Risk Of Ankle Sprains
You can’t always prevent spraining your ankle. There are times when accidents just happen. However, there are things you can do to protect and strengthen your ankle joints and ligaments, and lower the risk of injury:
- Wear good, supportive shoes that fit you well and are designed specifically for the activity you are participating in. This is especially important when doing manual labour, playing contact sports or walking on rough terrain or uneven surfaces.
- Stay active. Low impact physical activities such as walking, and swimming help to strengthen your ankle and keep the supporting muscles flexible. Strong, supple muscles are the key to lowering the incidence of ankle sprain.
- Always warm up before performing any form of strenuous physical activity. This helps to condition the muscles for a new activity before diving straight in. Cold muscles are more prone to sprains and other injuries.
- Avoid high heels whenever possible.
Don’t ignore that pain in your ankle, however minor it may seem. Hobbling around with a sprained ankle and ‘getting on with things’ will only make a minor injury worse, and could lead to permanent damage. Getting the injury checked by a doctor is important, more so if your ankle sprain was caused by an accident that was due to somebody else’s fault. A medical record is a critical supporting document if you intend to make a compensation claim for an ankle injury.
Disclaimer: Our solicitors process ankle injury claims for our clients, meaning they are trained in personal injury law but not necessarily trained medically. As such, this article should not be substituted for the expert advice of a medical professional. If you have sprained your ankle and require advice or help you can phone the National Health Service on 111. In an emergency you should call 999.