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Ankle Sprain

What is it?

There are ligaments in both the inner (medial) and outer (lateral) aspects of the ankle that connect the bones of the ankle in order to stabilize the ankle joint. During sport activities, a sudden movement/injury (rolling the ankle) can cause these ligaments to get violently stretched, resulting in an ankle sprain. Ankle sprains, anatomically speaking, are partial or complete tears of these ligaments. The most commonly seen ankle sprain results from an inversion injury to the ankle in which the foot twists inward, causing pain on the outside of the ankle. A high ankle sprain is when the ligament sprain extends beyond the ankle into the ligament that connects the two bones in the lower leg; this can take longer to heal than a regular ankle sprain.

What symptoms does it cause?

Ankle sprain is initially very painful, and it can be difficult to stand or walk during the first several days. The degree of swelling in an ankle sprain can range from mild to severe. There may or may not be bruising. The ankle might feel weak or unstable.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by your physician via physical examination. X-rays are done to rule out the possibility of a fracture in certain cases.

How is it treated?

Treatment initially involves a period of rest. For individuals who can’t walk, crutches are used at the outset. In severe cases, a cam boot/walking cast may be used to immobilize the ankle to reduce pain and allow the ligaments to heal. In milder cases, an ankle brace may be sufficient. Initial treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication and icing. Eventually as the ankle starts feeling better and pain subsides, physical therapy or a home exercise program may be started to help you regain ankle flexibility, strength and balance to prevent future injury. In general, you should not return to your sports activity until:

  • You have complete range of motion (in and out, up and down, side to side).
  • You have full weight-bearing, good balance, and strength in the muscles around your ankle.
  • Your ankle doesn’t hurt or swell up during exercise.

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Foot and Ankle Surgeon is Athlete at Heart

Ahmed Sonya

Dr. Sonya Ahmed is the chief of foot and ankle surgery in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UC San Diego Health. See how this 1996 Olympic hopeful vaulted her way through medical school. Read article.

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