Posted: Monday, March 4, 2024

Ankle Sprains: Treatment and Prevention

Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports-related injuries but can happen to anyone. A misstep, an uneven sidewalk or an unexpected hole in the backyard and suddenly, your ankle throbs, swells, and it’s difficult to walk. Could it be a sprained ankle? A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments supporting the ankle endure stretching or tearing, commonly from falls, twists or rolls. Ligaments are crucial for joint stability, as they connect bone to bone. “Ankle sprains vary in severity, depending on the ligaments affected. Symptoms may involve pain, swelling, bruising, difficulty bearing weight and reduced ankle motion. Early rehabilitation and mobility are key in our treatment approach for ankle sprains,” explained Hailey Gaskin, nurse practitioner with Sports Medicine at East Tennessee Medical Group (ETMG).

The initial step is an examination by a provider to distinguish between a sprain or broken bone, as each requires distinct treatment. Depending on this assessment, the provider determines the appropriate exercise level and progression. “Our primary aim is to initiate mobility exercises promptly. We tailor exercises, either as home routines or through formal physical therapy, based on the patient’s needs. X-rays are ordered to rule out a break if walking becomes difficult or if there are signs of bony tenderness during examination,” Gaskin emphasized.

For moderate to severe sprains, patients often require crutches, bracing or a walking boot for immobilization. Rest, ice, compression and oral anti-inflammatories such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen serve as beneficial elements in the treatment plan. Typically, ankle sprains take about six weeks to heal, with the initial two weeks being the most painful due to swelling and reduced mobility.

The most effective treatment for ankle sprains primarily involves physical therapy. Inadequately addressed injuries could lead to weakened ankles, increasing the risk of reinjury. Recurring ankle sprains might result in chronic ankle pain, instability and ankle arthritis. To address these concerns, providers at ETMG collaborate closely with OrthoTennessee Maryville and Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation to ensure ankle injuries heal and the ligaments are strengthened to help prevent future injuries. Additionally, all local middle and high school athletes have access to the Student Athlete Clinic at Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation at Cherokee, a service provided by school athletic trainers. “Athletes can undergo initial evaluations here to determine whether they need further consultation with a sports medicine specialist like myself or Dr. Benjamin England,” clarified Gaskin.

Preventative measures can mitigate the risk of sprained ankles or recurring sprains. Warming up before exercise, wearing appropriate shoes for the activity, and being mindful of uneven surfaces or tripping hazards is recommended. For those with weak or previously injured ankles, using a brace or taping can provide stability and reduce injury risk. Incorporating stability and balance exercises, along with maintaining strength and flexibility in the ankle and surrounding muscles and ligaments, helps prevent injuries.

If you are looking for a health care provider or would like to make an appointment with a sports medicine specialist, call East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-984-3864.

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