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Ankle Sprain (Lateral)

Ligaments are strong bands of fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone, and often play an important stabilizing role in a joint. Most sprained ankles happen when the outer, or lateral, ligaments are stretched too much. Sprains are graded based on their severity, ranging from a strain (mild), to a partial tear (moderate), to a complete tear (severe)

Ankle Sprain (Lateral) Hero Image 2

Ligaments are strong bands of fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone, and often play an important stabilizing role in a joint. Most sprained ankles happen when the outer, or lateral, ligaments are stretched too much. Sprains are graded based on their severity, ranging from a strain (mild), to a partial tear (moderate), to a complete tear (severe). Lateral ankle sprains can damage the ankle joint and limit your mobility. Without treatment, recurrent sprains can occur, causing chronic problems with the ankle.

What causes Ankle Sprain (Lateral)?

A lateral ankle sprain can happen to anyone. This injury is usually caused by a sudden twisting, turning, or rolling of the ankle to one side. A lateral ankle sprain can occur when walking or stepping on uneven ground. Sprains often happen during athletic play, particularly in sports that require quick changes of direction and jumping.

Lateral ankle sprains are most common in these sports:

• Soccer
• Tennis
• Football
• Trail running
• Basketball
• Volleyball

Symptoms

Symptoms associated with lateral ankle sprains will depend on damage to the ligaments in your ankle. With a mild (first degree) strain, you may feel mild tenderness. A moderate (second degree) strain may result in swelling and bruising. A severe (third degree) strain is a full tear of the ligaments that makes it painful and difficult to walk.

Common symptoms also include:

• Pain in the lateral ankle at onset of injury
• Swelling
• Bruising
• Tenderness
• Instability of ankle, especially when walking on uneven surfaces

When to see a doctor

Minor ankle sprains can be treated at home with rest, ice, and elevation. However, if your ankle becomes swollen and painful to walk on, you should consult with your doctor. During your visit, your doctor will ask questions about your injury, its symptoms, and the sports you play. During the physical examination, your doctor will press your ankle to see which ligaments have been damaged. Your doctor may also want to conduct an “ankle drawer test,” which involves moving your ankle in different positions to assess your range of motion. An x-ray may be ordered to check for broken bones. Other imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, may be taken to determine the extent of damage to your ligaments or to see if there are other injuries.

Non-operative treatment

The majority of lateral ankle sprains, even severe ones, are treated without surgery. Treatment usually involves rest and keeping weight off your ankle. Conservative treatments also include:

• Ice
• Elevation
• Compression with an Ace bandage for stability
• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to relieve pain
• Crutches
• Wearing a special ankle brace or cast to support your ankle and protect it from re-injury
• Physical therapy exercises

You can also try these exercises at home:

Ankle Sprain (Lateral)

Surgical Treatment

Surgical Treatment of a Lateral Ankle Sprain
Surgery is not common for treating lateral ankle strains, but may be recommended for severe cases that result in instability of the ankle, or cases that do not improve with conservative treatment. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove bone fragments or scar tissue. In cases of recurrent ankle sprains, other types of surgical procedures may be needed to repair or reconstruct chronically damaged ligaments.

Recovery

Recovery time for a lateral ankle sprain will vary, depending on the severity of the sprain. However, even mild sprains can take several weeks for a full recovery. Athletes should work with their doctor and physical therapist on a rehabilitation program to facilitate their return to play. Often, athletes return to play with a brace or tape to protect their ankle from further injury.

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