Sprained Ankle

What is a Sprained Ankle?

Any injury that stretches or tears the ligaments holding the ankle together is known as an ankle sprain. A simple misstep or accident turns the ankle inward or outward, resulting in pain and difficulty using the foot. Sprains are very common but can become serious problems if left untreated. Repeated sprains may be a sign something is wrong with the ligaments or muscles of your ankle.

What are the Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle?

These sprains develop after a traumatic injury, but you may not remember what strained the connective tissues in your ankle by the time the symptoms appear. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain and tenderness in the ankle and foot, usually limited to either the inner or outer side
  • Swelling around the entire ankle
  • Feelings of instability when putting weight on the joint
  • Popping or snapping sounds during the injury
  • Tearing sensations during the injury
  • Bruising visible on the foot or ankle

Sprained Ankle Causes

Ankle sprains usually occur when the ankle twists, or inverts, underneath the leg as a result of the foot rolling to the side. This usually occurs during sports, particularly ones which require lots of jumping, such as basketball, when the ankle could twist when landing. It’s also common to sustain a sprained ankle when walking or running on uneven ground.

People who have sprained their ankle in the past are more likely to do it again. This is because previous injury can result in weakness in the muscles that run along the outside of the ankle, which makes the ankle more susceptible to turning in future.

Some people are simply more susceptible to sprained ankles than others due to having conditions such as hindfoot varus. This is where the heels turn slightly towards the inside, which increases the likelihood of the ankle turning.

In some instances, a sprained ankle can occur after an ankle fracture. This tends to happen when the broken bone is being set.

How is a Sprained Ankle Treated?

Most ankle sprains only need ice to bring down the swelling and rest to restore the tissue. However, you should still have the ankle imaged to rule out complications like tears that are likely to heal unevenly. The development of scar tissue causes long-term ankle pain and performance issues. You may need surgery to close tears or remove existing scar tissue after a sprain. Physical therapy is essential for building joint strength and stability to prevent long-term damage.

Sprained Ankle Prevention

One of the simplest ways to prevent a sprained ankle is to take extra care when walking or running on uneven ground to ensure each step the foot is placed on as even a surface as possible.

Those who play sports should ensure that they warm up thoroughly before training to reduce the risk of injury. They may also wish to consult a physical therapist, who may be able to prescribe exercises to strengthen the muscles around the ankle, or offer insights into correct form and technique to reduce the risk of sprain.

Tape or ankle braces may help those who have sprained an ankle badly in the past to avoid doing it again. Similarly, high-top shoes may be able to offer extra support to the ankle.

High heels are not recommended as they can increase the risk of turning the foot and spraining the ankle. All shoes should fit the feet correctly and be securely fastened, particularly those worn during sports.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 21, 2017