Regaining Mobility After A Sprain
When you sprain your ankle, regardless of the severity of the sprain, your mobility is negatively impacted. A sprain can make it difficult to walk correctly and impossible to exercise as you normally would – each step results in pain, and as you automatically shift more weight to your other foot, you can possibly strain the muscles in that leg and ankle as well or at least the long fascial connections between legs and hips.
When you get a sprain, it’s important to quickly and effectively reduce swelling and speed up recovery so that you don’t remain immobile for too long. Severe sprains can result in weeks of lessened mobility, which can impact muscle tone and result in the loss of fitness. This lack of mobility is due to the damaged ligaments; these do not support the ankle properly and this leads to weakness and functional deficits at the ankle and leg. To treat your sprain, it’s important to understand the differences in the severity of your sprain and how best to address the injury according to its severity.
Determining the Severity of Your Sprain
A twisted ankle can range from a simple injury that can take only a week from which to fully recover, or a more serious injury that may require physical therapy. Occasionally, some sprains are so severe that surgical intervention is necessary. First, let’s start with what a simple sprain looks like.
A sprain occurs when one or more ligaments in the ankle are torn or stretched, resulting in pain and swelling. The ligaments must stretch past the point where the body can fully recover on a near-immediate basis; this involves microscopic tearing of the structure within the ligament itself. Usually, the ankle has enough ‘play’ in it to recover from abnormal motions. However, a sprain involves stress to the joint that overwhelms the ability of that ligament to recover.
- A simple sprain may swell a little and be painful to walk on, but it’s not often that you’ll see bruising or feel heat from the site of injury. This sprain can take 1-3 weeks to recover from. In these cases there are a few tiny partial tears, but enough of the ligament is intact for it to function properly.
- A moderate sprain occurs when your ligaments are slightly more torn. Due to bleeding the tissue around the ligament will be bruised. It will take a little longer for this type of sprain to heal fully – up to 6-8 weeks. You should consider going to your orthopedist, podiatrist or an urgent care clinic to have it assessed for joint instability. You may need to wear an ankle brace and adjust your routines to keep weight off of it while it’s recovering. Physical therapy is a mainstay of treatment to ensure the best recovery and long-term ankle health possible.
- A more serious sprain, where a ligament is fully torn or severed, can result in bruising, significant swelling, and the site of injury may be hot to the touch. You will likely not be able to wear normal shoes due to the swelling, and your foot should not be weight-bearing at all. Usually, there is obvious instability to the joint and it is difficult to manage standing. This is a serious sprain and it’s important to seek medical attention. Without the right rehabilitation, a severely sprained ankle may permanently lose full range of motion and will have a higher likelihood of becoming sprained again due to chronic ankle instability and muscle loss.
How to Treat a Sprain
Most common sprains can be overcome with rest, compression, support and ice. Be sure to elevate the sprain, take Tylenol or an anti-inflammatory (natural preferred), and put ice on it. Try not to put any weight on it until you can walk without pain. Stability is important and bracing is likely required.
More severe sprains can require a doctor’s visit and physical therapy afterwards. The most severe of sprains may even require you to walk on crutches for an extended period of time. Your treatment will depend on the severity of your sprain and your lifestyle habits – your doctor will help develop the right treatment plan for you. Radiographs and a detailed physical examination will also be able to determine if you have one of the rare ankle sprains that actually requires surgery too. This is not something you want missed, so professional evaluation is a must.
At Warner Orthopedics & Wellness, we diagnose and treat all musculoskeletal injuries and disorders, including ankle sprains. If your ankle sprain is taking time to heal, make your appointment and we will be happy to assess your injury and recommend a course of treatment.