Ankle Sprains & Strains

Ankle sprains and strains are two completely different physical injuries to the body’s bones, muscle and tissue. Both ankle sprains and strains are considered musculoskeletal disorders. These injuries or disorders can effect muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and their supporting structures. Ankle sprains are extremely common with approximately 25,000 people suffering from injury daily. Over 3,000,000 Americans seek clinical evaluation for their ankle sprains annually and over 1,000,000 million people suffer from ankle fractures.

Considered the most common injury to the ankle, a sprain is an injury to the ankle ligament. Ligaments connect one bone to another and are composed of fibrous connective tissue that help increase joint stability. This tissue thus connects 2 or more bones at your ankle joint and is vital to normal movement by avoiding side to side movement.

The severity of ankle injuries is dependent upon on whether or not the ligament was stretched, turned or twisted, slightly torn or completely torn. Treatment for an ankle sprain also varies according to its severity. Lack of treatment may lead to a chronic ankle sprain and can reduce the chances that the injured person will ever walk normally again.

When an ankle sprain occurs the ligament is stretched or torn beyond its normal capacity. Acute cases result in a simple twisting beyond normal range. When your ankle rolls or turns during movement, or as a result of a misstep, or fall, your foot compensates to maintain balance overextending the normal range of motion of the ligament. Sprains are graded based on the severity of damage, ranging from mild injuries involving only a few fibers to complete tears of the ligament which can lead to joint instability.

A Grade I represents only slight damage to the ligament fibers. Grade II sprains often consist of significant ligament damage or even a partial tear and require considerable therapy. Grade III ankle sprains are considered a complete tear of the ligament and will require surgery.

High ankle sprains affect the ligaments that connect the tibia to the fibula. These sprains are located above the ankle and affect stability greatly. These injuries are much less common than traditional sprains and occur from a rotational injury. Much like ankle fractures, which are common in contact sports and activity, they take considerably longer to heal than other sprains. Full resolution for high ankle sprains may take between 6 to 12 weeks.  

Sprained ankles occur in athletes, adults, children and are common in both sport and day to day life. Injury to your ankle often occurs due to poor balance, decreased strength and mobility, excessive muscle tightness, decreased flexibility, faulty technique or poor biomechanics, age, obesity, improper footwear and high heels. When engaged in high intensity activities, sports or exercise inadequate warm up, stretching and blood flow can also contribute to injury.

Although sometimes masked by other leg injuries, ankle sprains can be easily identified by the level of the pain you are experiencing. Symptoms of an ankle sprain include swelling, bruising, stiffness in the joint area, pain and soreness, and difficulty walking or engaging in normal range of motion. Mild or Grade I sprains can be treated with rest, cold therapy or ice and anti-inflammatory medication such as NSAIDs.

If you are allergic or concerned about the use of NSAIDs like Ibuprofen you may use an all natural, alternative medical solution that contains herbal substitutes. Topical analgesics also may reduce pain and inflammation temporarily and can be an effective therapeutic aid during rehabilitation. Do not use a topical analgesic as a method to continue your normal activities, exercise or training regimen. Discontinuing your rest and therapy while injured could lead to further and more severe longterm problems. The ankle joint is the most complex joint and cannot be easily replaced or repaired.  

Ankle strains, however, involves a stretching or tearing in the muscles or tendons. These strains take place when a muscle is stretched and suddenly contracts, as with running or jumping. Strains are commonly known as pulled muscles and are typically encountered in athletes or runners who overuse their muscles by performing extreme activities or beyond the limit of their capabilities. Many times an injury will occur suddenly such as with a runner that is in full stride. Muscle fatigue, poor conditioning, imbalance and lack of stretching can contribute to strains of the ankle.

Ankle strains are also common in contact sports and activities and can occur due to a physical blow, a fall and other acute trauma caused by external factors. Excessive stretching of your muscles can also damage blood vessels. These injuries are most common in the upper and lower extremities of the human body, as with the ankle. Symptoms of a strain may include pain, muscle spasm, loss of strength, and limited range of motion.

Strains are common amongst both men and woman. Traditional treatment involves rest and weeks of physical therapy to rebuild strength and range of motion. During this treatment and recovery period you should avoid strenuous activity as there is a high occurrence of re-injury and or the development of chronic problems. Cold therapy or ice as well as NSAIDs and or topical analgesics may be used to treat ankle strains.

The grade of the strain will ultimately dictate treatment, as well as the patient’s ability to bear weight on the ankle. Those patients who cannot bear weight should seek medical attention and may be prescribed a more aggressive therapy program such as a removable walking boot until they can comfortably bear weight again.

Chronic strains, considered long-lasting injuries gradually build up from overuse or repetitive stress, which result in tendinitis or inflammation of the tendon and can have a lifelong impact.