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A sprained ankle is most likely something you’ve experienced before. They are so common that researchers estimate that over 20,000 happen each and every day. And you don’t have to be an athlete to experience a sprained ankle. In fact you don’t even have to be doing anything that resembles activity. Just the act of going up and down stairs or walking over an uneven surface puts your ankles at risk for being strained or sprained.
Sounds a bit like you wont get through your day without eventually succumbing to the pain of a sprained ankle. But that’s not true either. Although common, most sprains are minor and require very little attention before the body heals itself and you are on your way back to normal activity.
When the ankle is sprained what is actually happening is that the ligaments that support the ankle and hold it into place are torn or stretched. These ligaments hold the ankle and foot attached to the leg bone. They help you to walk straight, quickly and with confidence. But when you twist your ankle walking over an uneven surface, or tripping down the stairs or during an athletic performance you stretch or tear those ligaments beyond their normal position.
The most common stretch or tear is an inversion sprain when your foot rolls inward and the outside of the ankle is stretched and torn. An eversion sprain (foot rolling outward) is much less common but has a high correlation with a broken bone in the ankle. In either case the symptoms are similar.
The person who suffers from a sprain will find the ankle swells, feels hot, is tender to walk on but not tender to touch, bruising and you may not be able to bear weight on the foot. The amount of pain you have and function you lose will depend on the severity of the injury to the ligament.
Your doctor will manipulate your foot and ankle to determine which ligaments are torn and this process may be painful. The doctor will also probably x-ray the ankle to determine if there are any broken bones which requiring further treatment. If the swelling, bruising and pain are minimal the physician may chose not to x-ray the foot.
Once the doctor has fully examined the injury and diagnostic x-rays they’ll be able to give you a full explanation of the grading of the sprain to your ankle. The grade of your ankle sprain will determine the type of treatment and recovery that will be necessary to help your ankle fully recovery from this trauma.
A grade one sprain has very minimal microscopic tears to the ligaments that support the ankle. There is minimal tenderness and swelling and you may not even see the doctor for a slight sprain.
A grade two ankle sprain involves complete tears of some but not all of the collagen fibers in the ligament. There is moderate tenderness, swelling and impairment to walking. The person will experience a decreased range of motion and may even experience some instability in the ankle. Grade 1 and 2 ankle sprains are the most common experienced by athletes and non-athletes.
A grade 3 ankle sprain involves a complete tear or rupture of the ligament that supports the ankle. These are more commonly inversion sprains and may also involve a break in the bone. The person will experience significant tenderness, heat and swelling with instability of the joint. They wont be able to place weight on the foot and may even require surgical reconstruction to regain the ability to walk well again.
When a person presents to the doctor with a Grade 1 ankle sprain he is much less likely to order an x-ray to check for bone damage then if the person presents with a Grade 2 or 3 sprain. Ankle sprains may be common but they also restrict the activity levels of those who suffer from them. This can mean lost work or school time as well as lost training if the person was an athlete. And once an ankle has suffered a Grade 2 or 3 sprain it is much more likely to be injured again unless there is significant retraining and strengthening done to support the joint.
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