When we think about ankle injuries, we often think about twisted ankles and fractures being the result of a sports injury. While it’s true that sports are often the culprit of these injuries, you don’t have to be LeBron James or Simone Biles to suffer an ankle injury. An ankle injury can occur from normal walking, slipping on a slick surface such as ice and snow, or even missing a step while climbing a staircase.
Ankle injuries are painful and are often difficult to self-diagnose. Because the symptoms of a minor ankle sprain, severe ankle sprain, and a fractured ankle are similar, you may not be able to properly evaluate the severity of your own injury—or that of your child’s. This post will provide you with an overview of common ankle injuries, as well as some tips for accelerating recovery.
Ankle sprains are quite common; in fact, there are more than 3 million cases in the U.S. each year! Whether you injured your ankle playing basketball, slipping on an icy Minneapolis street, or stumbling in the house, visit The Urgency Room for quick and easy treatment.
The Anatomy of an Ankle
An ankle is a large joint that is comprised of three bones—the tibia, the fibula, and the talus. Several different ligaments support the joint. The primary function of the ankle is to enable foot movement. This important joint allows the foot to move up and down and side to side, as well as maintain stability of the lower limbs.
The tibia and fibula are long bones that make up the shin, and the talus is the top bone in the foot that connects to the lower leg. There are ligaments on the inside and outside of the ankle that attach these bones and provide stability to the ankle joint during movements. The Achilles tendon is the large tendon that connects the large calf muscles in the lower leg to the foot and allows the foot to move up and down.
Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments in the ankle tear or are stretched too much. Ligaments are strong and stretchy by nature, but there are limits to how far they can stretch. A slip or wrong step can easily damage these connective tissues.
How do you know if you’ve sprained your ankle? Pain is the most obvious indicator. A sprained ankle will hurt right away, and the pain will persist. Some of the other symptoms of a sprained ankle include:
- Pain when attempting to walk
- Discoloration of the skin around the injury
- Limited range of motion
Sprained Ankle Grades
There are different levels of severity when it comes to ankle sprains, and they depend on the location of the ligament that is stretched or torn. These levels are broken down into grades, which serve as a simple way for physicians to evaluate the extent of the injury and determine the appropriate treatment methods. The more severe the injury to the ligament, the longer it will take to recover. Most ankle sprains take place on the outside of the foot, as the ligaments are more vulnerable when stretching or twisting side-to-side.
Grade 1 Ankle Sprain
Grade 1 sprains are considered the least severe of the three grades, but that doesn’t mean they’re not painful. This level of injury involves a ligament in the ankle stretching or tearing very slightly. The ankle feels stable and you will be able to walk but with modest pain. A grade 1 sprain will leave your ankle sore and slightly swollen, but the ligament will recover on its own. You may also hear a grade 1 ankle sprain referred to as a twisted ankle.
Grade 2 Ankle Sprain
A grade 2 sprain occurs when a ligament in the ankle is partially torn, more so than the slight tear that you might see in a grade 1 sprain. This more severe tear prolongs the pain and swelling of the injury. Significant bruising can take place during a grade 2 sprain, as the tear can cause bleeding underneath your skin. Walking and putting weight on the injured ankle will cause pain. The ankle will feel unstable when weight is placed on it.
Grade 3 Ankle Sprain
A grade 3 sprain occurs when a ligament is fully torn. The most severe of sprains, a grade 3 sprain will produce a popping sound and feel when it occurs. It takes a while for the ligament to fully recover, sometimes as long as 12 weeks. Putting any weight on the foot will result in intense pain, and the swelling and bruising will be significant. This level of injury may result in permanent instability of the ankle.
Treating a Sprained Ankle
The various grades of ankle injuries will require different levels of treatment. To treat a grade 1 sprain, ice your ankle to combat the swelling, and take NSAIDs as recommended to reduce pain and swelling. For treatment of a grade 2 ankle sprain, we recommend icing the area, taking NSAIDs, and compressing the ankle. Grade 2 sprains may also require a brace or splint to assist with the healing process. A grade 3 ankle sprain is difficult to distinguish from a fracture and thus requires more comprehensive evaluation and treatment. You’ll follow the same basic care steps—icing the ankle, keeping it elevated, compressing the ankle, and taking NSAIDs as recommended—but this level of injury may require a short leg cast or brace and rehabilitative exercises. If you have a severely sprained ankle or are at all concerned about your ankle injury, you should seek medical treatment to receive care and make sure a fracture has not occurred.
A fractured ankle, or broken ankle, occurs when one or more of the three bones in the ankle joint are broken. This can occur in the same way as a sprained ankle: by twisting, rolling, overextending, or simply landing on your ankle the wrong way.
The severity of a fractured ankle depends on the number of bones that are broken. For the person who suffers the injury, it may be difficult to distinguish whether you have a grade 2 or 3 sprain or a fractured ankle. In fact, sometimes there can be ligament damage in addition to a fractured ankle. To discover whether or not you have fractured your ankle, you’ll need to seek medical attention. Your physician will likely order an imaging test, such as an X-ray. At the UR, we screen for fractures and refer those patients with concern for more serious injury to orthopedics for follow exam to determine if an MRI is needed.
The symptoms of a fractured ankle will be very similar to that of a grade 3 sprain:
- Pain when placing pressure on foot
- Difficulty walking
Treating a Fractured Ankle
Treatment for an ankle fracture depends on the type of fracture and which bones are broken. Sometimes fractures can be treated with immobilization in a splint or cast, but other fractures will require surgery to heal properly.
If the ankle is unstable and surgery is required, a surgeon will likely insert a metal plate and screws to hold the broken bones in place to ensure healing. Following the surgery, the ankle is protected with a splint until the swelling goes down, and then a cast will be applied. While everyone heals differently, typical healing time for a fractured ankle is between 6-12 weeks after surgery.
Preventing Ankle Injuries
Prevention is always the best method for avoiding injury. To that end, there are a few steps you can take to help you keep your ankles safe from sprains and fractures. First, make sure that you’re properly equipped for the environment in which you’re traveling or exercising in. If you’re taking a walk in the middle of a Twin Cities winter, for example, be sure to wear non-skid shoes and stay aware of your environment. It’s all too easy to step onto an unassuming but very slick patch of ice. Do your best to be cognizant of the conditions around you, whether that means sprinkling salt on your driveway or picking up your child’s toys so that they’re not underfoot.
If you’re engaging in exercise or a sport, give your body the support it needs by pulling on some sturdy, supportive shoes. And before you break into a run or leap into the middle of a soccer game, take some time to stretch and warm up. Maintaining general fitness and core strength is also recommended, as this will improve balance and prevent injuries. These preventative steps will go a long way towards protecting you from one of the most common bone and joint injuries out there.
Treat Your Injured Ankle at the Urgency Room
Seeking sprained ankle treatment in the Twin Cities area? We’ve got you covered. If you’ve injured your ankle and want to have a doctor take a look to diagnose the severity, The Urgency Room is a faster and more enjoyable alternative to heading to the ER and waiting in an overfilled waiting room. When time is of the essence, come see us.
With convenient locations situated off of major highways running through the Twin Cities, visiting our Woodbury, Vadnais Heights, or Eagan locations is an easy trip. You can even check out live waiting room times at each of our locations, leaving you with an accurate expectation of exactly how long you may need to wait upon arrival.