Americans are no strangers to sprained ankles — there are approximately 2 million acute ankle sprains each year in the United States. While sprained ankles are commonplace, another statistic should give you pause — up to 70% of those who incur a sprain may develop ongoing residual physical disability.
The importance of early and expert intervention for sprained ankles should not be ignored, which is why here at William Schell, MD, we offer comprehensive sprained ankle care.
To underscore the importance of early care, we review some of the complications that can result from an untreated or improperly healed sprained ankle.
Ankle sprain anatomy
Before we dive into how a sprained ankle can lead to future complications, it’s helpful to review what happens when you sprain your ankle.
Each of your ankles feature strong ligaments that provide stability for the joint as they connect bone to bone. When you sprain your ankle, you overstretch one or more of these ligaments, which can lead to everything from tiny tears to complete ruptures of the ligament. (For a look at the different grades of sprained ankles, click here to see a previous blog post on the subject.)
Most ankle sprains occur in the lateral ligaments on the outside of your ankle as a result of twisting.
Ongoing problems after an ankle sprain
We want to first point out that ankle sprains that we treat promptly and properly have great prognoses. Under our care, we give you the tools and guidance necessary to ensure that your ankle heals well.
If, however, your sprained ankle wasn’t treated properly, didn’t adequately heal, and/or didn’t rehabilitate completely, you run the risk of ongoing problems down the road, starting with chronic ankle instability.
With chronic ankle instability, your ankle can often give way, mostly falling to the outside, thanks to looser-than-normal ligaments. This frequent collapsing of your ankle can lead to further sprains, as well as ongoing pain, swelling, and weakness in the joint.
Another long-term problem after an ankle sprain is chronic stiffness in the joint, namely poor dorsiflexion (flexing your foot backward toward your shin). This stiffness can have a cascading effect on your body since it may interfere with how you walk, which can lead to hip and knee problems.
Rounding out our list of potential complications after a sprained ankle is post-traumatic arthritis. During the original sprain, you may have also damaged cartilage, which can lead to the premature onset of arthritis. Interestingly, this type of arthritis may develop a few years, or a few decades, after the initial trauma.
Getting the right care for your ankle
While we’ve already touched on the importance of immediate care for your sprained ankle, there’s also much that we can do if you’re experiencing ongoing problems due to an old ankle sprain. If we identify chronic instability, stiffness, or early arthritis, we can get you started on a physical therapy regimen that can greatly improve your ankle function moving forward.
If you want to avoid future complications in your ankle after a sprain or you’re already dealing with post-sprain problems, we can help. To get started, simply contact our New York City office, which is located at Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.