Treating ankle sprains

January 27, 2012 2:44:48 PM PST
According to estimates from orthopedic surgeons, 25-thousand people a day experience an ankle sprain. It can be an excruciatingly painful and frightening experience if you don't know what to expect.

You don't have to be an athlete. You don't even have to be a weekend athlete to be at risk for an ankle sprain. Walking in our sometimes uneven city sidewalks or just down the stairs can sometimes be risky. One wrong step and oops... Your ankle has turned.

It can happen if the foot is planted unevenly on a surface, causing the ligaments to twist or turn beyond their normal range.

A sprain can disrupt life suddenly whether you're an ordinary person or a world class snowboarder like Shaun White, who sprained his left ankle just before he planned to compete in championship games.

Lucky for Shaun, his sprain was mild. Sprains can range from mild to severe. They're also identified with location.

"The most common ankle injury is the lateral ankle sprain, which is spraining the ligaments on the outside of the ankle," Dr. Brian Donley of the Cleveland Clinic said.

Lateral sprains are frequent in sports and the most common type seen in emergency rooms. A more serious sprain can involve a tear or happen higher in the ankle

"The high ankle sprain is when you start spraining the ligament, more in the leg that holds the two major bones together. The biggest difference is a high ankle sprain takes much more force to do, so it's a much more significant injury," Donley said.

It's the amount of stretching or tearing of the ligament that determines the pain. But whether mild, moderate or severe, the first response should be R-I-C-E.

"The initial treatment that's important for both sprains is what we like to call the RICE method: Rest it, Ice it, put Compression on it, and elevate it and that's essential for both types of sprains," Donley said.

It's the gold standard for pain caused by injury to the ankles. Rest it, ice it, put compression on it (meaning perhaps wrap a snug bandage on it), and then elevate it. Put that leg up. The first idea is to make the pain stop, and then heal the injury.

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