Ouch! What Happens When You Roll Your Ankle
Funny how our feet seem to be so good at finding those hidden holes out in the yard.
Not so funny is how much it hurts when you roll an ankle on a hole, while playing a spirited game of hoops or just hurrying down the stairs. Ankle injuries vary from a variety of different sprains and fractures, and while they happen to almost everyone, knowing the facts can help you recover faster and prevent them.
Avera Medical Group Orthopedics and Sports Medicine surgeon Brian Dix, DPM, explained that there are a few types of sprains as well as a few levels of ankle fracture.
“An inversion, or lateral ankle sprain, is when your foot rolls to the inside and the pain is on the outside area of your ankle, and it’s the most common,” he said. “A medial or eversion sprain is when you roll your foot outward and have pain on the inside of the ankle. It’s less common, and so too is the high ankle sprain, which is a rotational injury where all of those ligaments are hurt.”
While all are painful, the inversion and eversion sprains usually require less RICE – which is an acronym clinicians apply to the basic treatment protocol of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Dix said medial and lateral sprains usually lead to two to three weeks of RICE applications to get you healed.
“A high ankle sprain usually occurs in a higher impact situation, such as an accident or during contact sports, like football,” he said. “It can require more immobilization and in some cases a walking boot. Typically the injury will heal in about four to six weeks, and it could require more specific care, such as a brace or in some cases, additional treatment. It takes longer to heal because more ligaments are damaged or torn due to the accident or contact.”
Physical therapy to aid the return to normal life could take place in the case of a high ankle or severe “low” ankle sprain, too. In some cases, a doctor or provider might recommend the use of a brace or a walking boot. When the healing seems to be taking forever, physicians may recommend medical imaging, such as an MRI, to see if the damage goes beyond strained ligaments.
“Surgery can be an approach when there is ligament damage in a severe sprain, and surgery also comes into our considerations for care with ankle fractures,” said Dix. “Figuring out the degree of injury is important, that way we can address it properly – and look at all options.”
While all ankle injuries hurt, if you attempt to stand and you have extremely sharp pain, sit or lie back down, Dix said.
“With an ankle fracture, you will not be able to put any weight on that leg, and sometimes people will try to ‘walk it off’ and they should not – it can lead to additional injury to the bones that are broken,” he said. “There are multiple factors that go into the treatment, and surgery can be one of them if the fractures are numerous and the person’s in good health.”
In short, sprained ankles are a pain, but usually something that will go away in a few weeks, except for the high ankle sprain. Fractures are much more serious and in all cases, seek medical attention, because a well-trained orthopedic specialist can make the evaluation and get you on the proper path toward feeling better.
Tips on Avoiding Ankle Injuries
Work on balance training: Easy exercises, such as balancing yourself on one foot, can help you improve your equilibrium. Try brushing your teeth on one foot – easy to do.
Strengthen your muscles: Plenty of walks – or just a towel used as resistance on your ankle’s muscles – can help. Just work on it regularly and move your foot against the towel, up, down, in and out.
Stretch more: Develop a stretching and mobility routine – that’s a great way to make sure you’re flexible and your lower extremity muscles are in shape.
Protect yourself: Use tape or a brace if you’re planning more aggressive activity. Some athletes swear by taping up – others do not like it.
Prepare and prepare some more: If you’re a “weekend warrior” and haven’t run or jumped a lot in a while, give yourself time to get up to “game speed” – gradual build up to the level of activity you wish to attain.