What to Do With a Sprained Ankle

Approximately 2 million people sprain their ankle each year; in fact, it is one of the most common sports injuries. Why? Your ankle is only designed for a limited range of movement, and most injuries happen when there’s a sudden change in direction or burst of movement. They can also occur if you slip, trip or fall awkwardly. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, you may experience one or more of the following:

  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected ankle
  • Joint instability
  • Loss of balance

Whether you’re at home, on the playing field, working or on vacation, let’s find out what to do with a sprained ankle if you do happen to get one.

How bad is my ankle sprain?

There are three grades for ankle sprain severity, including:

Grade 1

Your ankle feels stable, and you can walk with minimal pain. This is typical of a slight tear or overstretching of the ligaments. Common symptoms include mild tenderness, swelling and stiffness.

Treatments include the RICE method—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Rest your ankle by not walking on it, apply ice as soon as possible to keep the swelling down (apply 3-4 times daily for 20-30 minutes), wrap your ankle to immobilize it and give it added stability as it heals, and elevate your ankle above your heart as much as possible for the first 48 hours.

Grade 2

Though your ankle feels somewhat stable, the damaged areas are tender to the touch and walking is painful. This is a more serious sprain, but not a complete tear. Symptoms include moderate pain, swelling and bruising.

Treatment also includes the RICE method, but your doctor may prescribe use of a device like an Aircast to immobilize or splint the ankle.

Grade 3

Your ankle is unstable, and walking is not likely possible because it cannot support the weight of your body. Symptoms include intense pain, severe swelling and bruising. A grade-3 sprain can be associated with permanent instability, but surgery is rarely needed.

Treatments include a short leg cast or a cast-brace for 2-3 weeks followed by rehabilitation to decrease pain, swelling and chronic ankle problems.

While most grade one sprains can be treated safely at home, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Baton Rouge if you think you’ve suffered a grade 2 or 3 sprain. Broken bones and fractures can have similar symptoms of pain and swelling, so it’s important to get appropriate treatment so your ankle can heal correctly. Using an x-ray, your doctor will be able to tell you whether you have any broken bones or the grade of the ankle sprain.

What is a high ankle sprain?

A high ankle sprain is a less common, but more severe, type of ankle sprain that involves a different set of ligaments than in the common ankle sprain. These ligaments are located above the ankle joint and malleoli (the hard bony knobs on each side of the ankle), between the tibia and fibula (the two bones located between the knee and ankle).

Sudden twisting, turning or cutting motions, which are common in high-impact sports while a person is running or jumping, are the most common causes of high ankle sprains. The best way to avoid this type of serious injury is continual performance training for strength and flexibility, including specific stretching exercises before and after playing sports.

High ankle sprains are typically diagnosed using a fibular compression test. During this test, your doctor will place hands on each side of your lower leg and squeeze the tibia and fibula together in a few different spots. If this causes intense pain that radiates down your leg, you likely have a high ankle sprain. X-rays may also be needed to confirm whether you have a fractured fibula or compartment syndrome, a painful and dangerous condition caused by a buildup of pressure from internal bleeding or swelling of tissues.

If you’ve suffered a trip, fall or other mishap and need to get your ankle examined, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Baton Rouge. Our skilled medical professionals will examine the injury, test your range of motion and tenderness and then give you an x-ray to diagnose whether your injury is a strain, sprain, high sprain or fracture. We welcome walk-in appointments Mon-Fri, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sat-Sun 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.