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Ankle Sprain (Syndesmotic)

A syndesmotic ankle sprain, also called a “high ankle sprain,” is a tearing of ligaments that are above the ankle. These ligaments, tough bands of fibrous tissue, connect the tibia and fibula, the two shin bones that make up the lower leg. This injury occurs less frequently than other types of ankle strains but can require a longer recovery time.

Ankle Sprain (Syndesmotic) Hero Image 2

A syndesmotic ankle sprain, also called a “high ankle sprain,” is a tearing of ligaments that are above the ankle. These ligaments, tough bands of fibrous tissue, connect the tibia and fibula, the two shin bones that make up the lower leg. This injury occurs less frequently than other types of ankle strains but can require a longer recovery time.

What causes Ankle Sprain (Syndesmotic)?

High ankle sprains usually happen when the foot is planted on the ground and turns forcefully towards the outside, away from the leg. It is most commonly seen in impact sports. It may also occur in athletes with severe ankle fractures.

High ankle sprains are most common in these sports:

• Soccer
• Football
• Basketball
• Wrestling
• Lacrosse

Symptoms

Athletes with a high ankle sprain usually feel pain above the ankle, especially when they rotate their ankle towards the outside of their leg. Symptoms associated with a syndesmotic ankle sprain will depend on the degree of damage to the ligaments in your ankle.

Common symptoms also include:

• Pain and swelling above the ankle
• Pain in the leg near the knee
• Bruising in the lower leg near the ankle
• Inability to put weight on the ankle

When to see a doctor

If your ankle becomes swollen and painful to walk on, you should consult with your doctor. As surgery may be necessary for some high ankle sprains (see below) it is important that you see your physician if you are unable to bear weight on your ankle or you have any of the other symptoms of a high ankle sprain. During your visit, your doctor will ask questions about your injury, the symptoms, and the sports you play. During the physical examination, your doctor will press your ankle to see if your ligaments are damaged. A squeeze test may also be performed, in which your doctor squeezes your leg just below your knee. You may have a high ankle sprain if pain radiates down to just above your ankle. A weight-bearing x-ray may also be ordered to see if you shin bones have fractured, moving apart to form a gap.

Non-operative treatment

Syndesmotic ankle sprains are generally treated without surgery as long as they are only partial. Treatment usually involves rest and keeping weight off your ankle. Conservative treatments also include:

• Ice for 20 minutes every two to three hours
• Elevating the ankle
• Compression with an Ace bandage for stability
• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to relieve pain
• 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 (Syndesmotic)

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is usually considered when your injury causes a widening of the space between the tibia and the fibula, or if you have an associated fracture. To restore the stability of the ankle joint, either screws or fiberwire will be used to hold the tibia and fibula in the correct alignment so that the torn ligaments can heal. Associated ankle fractures are also fixed during surgery.

Recovery

Recovery time for a high ankle sprain generally takes considerably longer than other types of ankle sprains. Athletes can expect at least a six week to three month recovery period before they return to play. The rehabilitation period will include a gradual return to weight-bearing activity and physical therapy exercises to build strength and prevent stiffness.

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