An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the ankle become stretched or tear. Your ligaments help connect your bones to one another and or to cartilage.
A sprain is distinctly different from a strain. Sprains injure ligaments, while strains affect muscles and tendons.
The symptoms of the two injuries, however, are very similar. For this reason, distinguishing a sprain from a strain without the help of a medical professional can be difficult.
An ankle sprain can cause intense pain in the joint and may make it difficult to move the ankle or walk. Sometimes, a sprained ankle can feel like a broken bone.
Signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle
Depending on the severity, an ankle sprain causes several levels of pain.
The pain and other symptoms an ankle sprain causes vary depending on the severity of the sprain, as well as which ligaments it affects. Some sprains can involve multiple ligaments.
Assigning a grades to of to sprains depending on their severity: 1 through 3
Grade 1 sprains are mild and occur when there is stretching and microscopic tearing of the ankle ligament. They typically cause only mild pain and swelling.
Grade 2 sprains are moderate and occur when the ligament partially tears. They cause moderate pain and swelling. When a doctor manipulates the ankle, they may notice that the joint is abnormally loose.
Grade 3 sprains are severe and occur when a ligament completely tears. They can cause significant pain and swelling that may make it difficult to move the ankle. When a doctor pulls or pushes on the ankle in certain positions, they may notice joint instability.
Intense pain generally means that there is a more severe sprain, but all sprains can be painful.
Other symptoms include:
Sudden pain, usually after a fall or blow, which may become worse over several hours
Swelling or bruising on or around the ankle
Difficulty moving the ankle
Joint instability that may make it difficult to walk or that causes the ankle to give out or collapse when walking
A popping sound following the injury (in the case of grade 3 sprains)
A severe sprain may feel like a broken bone. The symptoms may also be similar to a break, including difficulty moving the joint.
If you experience intense muscle or bone pain following an injury you should see a doctor.
Any injury that stretches or traumatizes the ligaments can sprain the ankle. Some common causes include:
Falling: Falling can twist the ankle and the ligaments that support it. People with certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis, are more vulnerable to falls. Sprains from falls during sports such as running are also common.
Previous ankle sprain: An ankle sprain that does not heal correctly may cause another sprain. In some cases, a sprain changes the way a person walks, therefore increasing the risk of additional falls and injuries.
A blow to the ankle: A sudden blow to the ankle may sprain the ligaments if the blow forces them to stretch. For example, a person who falls on their ankle may put weight on the ligaments in a way that injures them.
Overuse: Overusing the ankle, such as by playing competitive sports, can cause tiny tears in the ligaments, tendons, or muscles. This increases the risk of injury following a fall or blow and may cause ligament damage that sprains the ankle.
Sedentary lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle does not cause sprains, but it may increase the risk of soft tissue injuries. This is because not getting enough exercise can weaken the muscles and soft tissue with time. When a person falls or overextends the ankle, the weak tissue is more likely to tear. Having weak muscles makes it easier for an injury to occur.
In the event of a severely sprained ankle Physical Therapy is a great way to heal your injury.
Physical therapy can help heal injured ligaments, as well as surrounding soft tissue that may also have sustained an injury. Physical therapy includes stretches and home exercises, as well as regular evaluation by a physical therapist. Physical therapy will help a person regain motion in the ankle and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
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