Ankle sprains can be painful and make it hard for you to carry out daily activities. However, many people can’t quite identify the difference between an ankle “sprain” and “strain”. These two terms are often used interchangeably to describe over-stretching or tearing of soft tissues in and around your joints.

Classifications of Ankle Sprains

There are two basic classifications of ankle sprains: Anatomic (the severity of damage to tissues in the ankle) and functional (the level of which an injury affects the patient’s ability to walk or put weight).

Grade I ankle sprain – where the lateral ligaments are strained (overstretched) but the patient is still able to fully bear weight and walk.

Grade II ankle sprain – where there is partial tearing of one or several ligaments and the patient walks with a noticeable limp.

Grade III ankle sprain – where there is a complete rupture (tear) in one or more lateral ligaments and the patient is unable to walk.

These grading systems are commonly used to estimate timelines for recovery, which can range from 1 to 2 weeks (Grade I) to 6 to 12 weeks (Grade III). Recovery is also often dependent on the specific injury, the type of rehabilitation, and the therapy goal, e.g. return to sports.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention?

While ankle sprains are among the most common injuries and are typically perceived as mild problems that can heal by themselves, here are some indications that you might require medical attention:

  1. There is severe swelling and/or bruising of the ankle.
  2. You cannot walk or bear weight on the injured foot.
  3. A crack or pop sound was heard during the accident/injury.
  4. There is an obvious deformity of the ankle.
  5. The injury does not seem to be improving over time (prolonged pain, bruising, etc.)

It is advisable to see a physiotherapist for an assessment to determine the severity of the trauma. Sometimes, a patient may need to see a doctor for further examination and in some cases, a surgery might be indicated.

The RICE Method for Injuries

The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method is often recommended for mild, acute injuries. This simple self-care technique helps reduce swelling, eases pain, and speeds up healing.

What’s Next?

While an ankle sprain can clear up on its own, you may have a greater chance for an ankle sprain if you have had one before. Be sure to get sufficient rest before returning to (intense) sporting activities, especially for grade III injuries. Bracing or taping the ankle can also decrease the frequency and severity of ankle sprains among athletes.

Patients with recurrent ankle sprains can also benefit from physiotherapy, e.g. strengthening and stability training for the ankle.

Remember, early appropriate treatment may prevent unnecessary pain and a delayed recovery!

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