“Ligaments” are made up of many individual fibers running parallel to each other and bundled to form a strong fibrous band. These fibrous bands hold your bones together. Just like a rope, when a ligament is stretched too far, it begins to fray or tear. “Sprain” is the term used to describe this tearing of ligament fibers.
Sprains are graded by the severity of damage to the ligament fibers. A Grade 1 sprain means the ligament has been painfully stretched, but no fibers have been torn. A Grade 2 sprain means some, but not all, of the ligaments’ fibers have been torn. A Grade 3 sprain means all of the ligaments’ fibers have been torn, and the ligament no longer has the ability to protect the joint.
Ankle sprains are the most common soft-tissue injury and will affect up to 20% of active people at some point in their life. Most ankle sprains occur because you have “rolled your ankle” inward. Sprains on the outer side of your ankle are much more common than sprains on the inner side. People who have suffered a prior ankle injury are more likely to suffer subsequent ankle injuries.
Ankle sprains cause pain and swelling over the outside of your ankle. Walking may be difficult, and bruising is common. Be sure to tell your doctor if you experience numbness, tingling, or a dramatic cold sensation in your foot, as this may indicate more significant injury.
Ankle sprains can be successfully managed but will require some work on your part. You can help reduce swelling by elevating your ankle by lying or sitting with your foot elevated or by using an ACE wrap for compression. Applying ice or ice massage for 10 minutes each hour may help relieve swelling. Depending upon the severity of your sprain, you may need to wear an ankle brace to help protect you from further injury. If walking is painful, crutches may be necessary.
Initially, a period of rest may be necessary in order to help you heal. Mild Grade 1 sprains may allow return to sport in a couple of days, while more severe injuries may take six weeks or longer to recover. Surgery is rarely necessary.