What is an ankle sprain or strain?

Ankle sprains and strains are common injuries for all ages. A sprain is caused by stretching or tearing ligaments while a strain is caused by stretching or tearing a muscle or tendon.

Most frequently sprains occur in the ankle.

Causes of ankle sprains or strains

The most common causes of a sprain or strain are blows or falls affecting the ankle. Other causes of ankle strains or sprains include:

  • Fast and awkward side movements — these movements occur when your foot is planted firmly on the ground, and your ankle turns out while your foot turns in causing an ankle strain or sprain.
  • Sprains and strains often occur in sporting activities that involve changing foot position or direction quickly such as soccer, running, football and basketball.
  • Inappropriate footwear can cause an ankle sprain.

Risk factors for ankle sprains or strains

Risk factors for ankle sprains or strains include:

  • Participating in sports or exercise without proper warm ups can be a risk factor for an ankle sprain or strain because the muscles, ligaments, and tendons are tighter when they are not warmed up.
  • Obesity or carrying excess weight can put an individual at a higher risk of an ankle sprain or strain due to greater stress on the ankle while walking, running or participating in sports.
  • Muscle fatigue can also be a risk factor for an ankle sprain or strain — long distance runners (marathoners or ultramarathoners) are at high risk for an ankle strain or sprain due to the amount of continuous stress they are putting on the joints.

Symptoms of ankle sprains or strains

Symptoms of a sprained or strained ankle include:

  • Ankle pain
  • Swelling around the ankle joint
  • Ankle stiffness
  • Bruising or discoloration of the skin surrounding the injury
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Inability to put weight on the foot or ankle

Diagnosis of ankle sprains or strains

Most frequently ankle sprains are diagnosed in a physical exam from your primary care doctor or orthopedic specialist. The physician may order an x-ray or MRI to rule out more severe injuries such as a fracture, dislocation  or a bone chip.

Treatment for ankle sprains or strains

If you suspect you have an ankle strain or sprain you should elevate, ice and rest the area. Many sprains or strains do not need medical attention.

If you have severe pain for more than 3 days schedule an appointment with your physician. Surgery to repair torn ligaments, muscles, or tendons is required for sprains and strains that are more severe.

Mercy Health offers the following treatments for ankle sprains and strains:

  • Physical therapy & rehabilitation
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection

Recovery from ankle sprains or strains

Although most ankle sprains and strains heal within a few weeks, more severe ankle sprains or strains can take a few months to heal. It is important to follow your orthopedic physician’s recommendations on how quickly to return to daily activity.

A severe strain or sprain may require physical therapy or strengthening exercises for rehabilitation.

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