You twist or roll your ankle and now it’s painful and swollen, and you’re wondering whether to seek medical help. Most of the time the answer is, “Yes.”
There are about 2 million sprained ankles each year in the United States that range from mild to severe, making sprained ankles one of the more common injuries. More alarming, about 70% of people with acute ankle sprains (moderate-to-severe) develop ongoing problems in the joint, which may not have developed had they sought timely help.
To help you navigate an ankle sprain, board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Schell and our team want to focus on ankle sprains in this month’s blog post. More specifically, when it’s a good idea to seek our help.
Not all ankle sprains are equal
When you sprain an ankle, you stretch or tear the ligaments in your ankle, which are the connective tissues that stabilize the joint. In 90% of cases, ankle sprains occur when you roll your foot inward, which damages the lateral ligaments on the outside of your ankle.
There are different grades of sprained ankles, which include:
- Grade 1 — you overstretch the ligaments, which leads to microtears in the tissue
- Grade 2 — there’s partial tearing in the ligament
- Grade 3 — there’s a complete tear in your ligament
As you can imagine, the symptoms that come with each get progressively worse, and we’ll discuss those next.
What to do when you think you’ve sprained your ankle
When you roll or twist your ankle and you feel some immediate discomfort, the best course of action is to apply the RICE method (rest, ice, compress, and elevate) as soon as possible. In other words, first grab a seat and an ice pack and elevate your ankle with the ice pack on it for about 20 minutes.
Afterward, apply a bandage to your ankle to keep the swelling down. Repeat the icing therapy 2-3 times, but wait at least an hour in between each.
If, after applying the RICE method, your ankle feels better and you can place weight on it, the odds are good that it’s only a mild sprain (grade 1) and the injury should heal on its own with a little rest and time.
If, however, you develop any of the following symptoms and they persist after using the RICE method, it’s time for a higher level of care:
- Inability to bear weight
- Continued swelling
- Tenderness to the touch
- Instability in your ankle
These symptoms indicate that your sprain goes beyond a mild one, and you should come see us so we can determine the extent of the problem using advanced imaging.
Once we have a better idea about the damage to your ligaments, we can design a treatment plan with the goal of preventing ongoing issues in your ankle. This treatment plan may include using crutches or a boot, engaging in physical therapy, and/or surgery to repair the ligaments.
While surgical repair of a sprained ankle isn’t all that common, it may be necessary if you have a complete tear in your ligament that won’t heal on its own.
If you’re on the fence as to whether to seek help for your sprained ankle, please contact our New York City office on the West Side on Columbus Circle.