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Among the most common of orthopedic injuries, ankle sprains can affect people at every activity level - from professional athletes to the most sedentary persons. In fact, in the United States alone, approximately 25,000 ankle sprains occur each day. That amounts to millions of sprained ankles each year.
The frequency of ankle sprains does not make them any less painful or serious. Proper diagnosis and care are necessary to help speed the recovery process of these injuries.
Causes of ankle sprains
An ankle sprain can occur during sports and when carrying out daily activities. Most ankle sprains occur when you step onto an uneven surface or otherwise twist your foot. Common causes of sprained ankles include: stepping onto an uneven sidewalk, awkwardly planting your foot when running or walking, or having your foot stepped on while participating in a sport.
These and other movements can cause the ligaments surrounding the ankle to be stretched too far, causing a partial or complete tear. This ligament tear creates the pain and swelling associated with ankle sprains.
Ankle sprain symptoms
Swelling, bruising, tenderness, and pain are common symptoms of sprained ankles. Although the majority of ankle sprains result in pain on the outside of the ankle, about 10 percent of sprained ankles will cause pain and swelling on the inside of the ankle. The degree of these symptoms will vary based on the grade of your sprain.
Grade I: Stretching and some microscopic tearing of the ligament. A minor ankle sprain which typically causes some pain and swelling. However, with most minor sprains, you will be able to walk without the use of crutches, although your ability to run, jog, and jump will be limited.
Grade II: Partial tearing of the ligament. You will most likely feel more pain and swelling and notice bruising, which is caused by bleeding. Walking will be painful, but not unbearable, as long as you take it easy and only take a few steps at a time.
Grade III: Complete tear of the ligament. The most painful of ankle sprains. With a complete tear, you might feel as though your ankle is not stable. Walking may be unbearable without the use of crutches.
Treatment of ankle sprains
For grade I and II ankle sprains, you should be able to treat yourself, using the R.I.C.E. guidelines of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Be sure to give your ankle a chance to heal by resting it; this means limit walking on it. Putting ice on your sprained ankle will help reduce the swelling. Compress the ankle using Ace bandages, but do not wrap it too tightly; the wrap should allow for blood flow to your foot. Whenever possible, keep your injured ankle elevated above your heart.
If you believe you have a grade III ankle sprain or if your ankle does not show improvement after several days of home treatment, visit your doctor. Serious ankle sprains can lead to long-term ankle instability if not properly treated.