All it takes is a simple misstep, and suddenly you have a sprained ankle. An ankle sprain is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in people of all ages, athletes, and couch potatoes alike. The injury occurs when one or more of the ligaments in the ankle are stretched or torn, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty walking.
Ligaments are made out of connective tissue consisting of strong collagen fibers. They are found in different shapes and sizes in the body. Some look like pieces of string; others look like narrow or wide bands. There are arch-shaped ligaments, too. Ligaments often connect two bones together, particularly in the joints. In the ankle, like strong, firmly attached straps or ropes, they stabilize the joint ensuring that the bones in the ankle joint don’t twist too much or move too far apart and become dislocated.
The most common type of ankle sprain is an inversion injury or lateral ankle sprain. The foot rolls inward, overstretching and damaging the ligaments of the outer ankle — the anterior talofibular ligament, the calcaneofibular ligament, and the posterior talofibular ligament.
Less common are sprains affecting the ligaments of the inner ankle (medial ankle sprains) and syndesmotic sprains, which injure the tibiofibular ligaments — the ligaments that join the two leg bones (the tibia and the fibula) just above the ankle.
Many people try to tough out ankle injuries and don’t seek medical attention. But if an ankle sprain causes more than slight pain and swelling, and is not responsive to standard RICE therapy (Rest, Ice/Ibuprofen/Compression/Elevation), it’s important to see a clinician. Your clinician will be able to do a full evaluation, including history and physical, diagnostic tests and imaging if appropriate, and guide you towards recovery and rehabilitation. In severe refractory cases, regenerative medicine such as platelet-rich plasma therapy can be a superior alternative to surgical collection.
Without proper treatment and rehabilitation, a severely injured ankle may not heal well and could lose its range of motion and stability, resulting in chronic recurrent sprains and more downtime in the future.