Ankle sprains are the most common injuries for athletes. It seems as if most of us suffer these twists of fate sooner or later, and they tend to recur withannoying frequency and at the most inconvenient of times – as in, just when we’re getting back to full speed on the basketball court or soccer field.
Most sprained ankles are just bad luck such as when a basketball player goes up for a rebound and lands on someone’s foot, or when you step off a curb wrong.
And if not properly treated and rehabilitated, ankle sprains can leave behind weakness and instability in the joint long after the initial swelling disappears.
It’s been estimated that at least 24,000 sprained ankles occur every day in America and that they comprise some 45 percent of all sports injuries.
And being a well-conditioned athlete does not seem to help prevent these injuries. In fact, approximately 70% of college basketball players surveyed in one study reported a history of ankle injury.
What Exactly Is a Sprain?
Basically it’s the stretching or tearing of the ankle’s stabilizing ligaments, usually those on the outside of the foot and ankle. By far the most common type (at least 80 percent of all sprains) is an inversion sprain, in which the foot turns inward, rolling over on its outer edge. Much less often seen are eversion sprains in which the foot turns outward; the skeletal structure of the foot provides inherent stability against this type of motion.
When a sprain occurs, the athlete may hear a pop or cracking sound and soon experiences an egg-shaped swelling on the lower ankle and foot. We can assess the level of damage by holding the lower leg just above the ankle, grasping the heel, and gently attempting to move the heel forward. The amount of give that’s felt in the ankle joint generally indicates that ligaments are either partially or completely torn.
How Are Sprains Treated?
Acute treatment should start as quickly as possible after the injury has occurred. The objective of the acute treatment is primarily to prevent additional injury and reduce bleeding as much as possible. Effective acute treatment will limit swelling, the formation of scar tissue and the number of complications which can arise.
Initial Treatment Should Follow The So-Called “R.I.C.E.” Principles
Continued sports activity is immediately stopped and weight is kept off the ankle for a presecribed length of time.
As soon as is possible, ice should be placed on the injured area and off and on for at least the first three days. The cold ice makes the blood vessels contract, thereby stopping the bleeding. Cold spray has no effect in such circumstances. The ice must not come into direct contact with the skin, which should be covered with a thin layer of, for example, elastic bandage. Ice treatment should be given for twenty minutes in each of the first three hours after injury.
Cold compresses or an elastic wrap should be applied, but not so tight as to hinder circulation. The compression bandage should be removed at night, but applied again each morning until the swelling goes down.
The injured area should be kept above the level of the heart to encourage venous flow to the heart.