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How to Treat a Sprained Ankle


25,000 people sprain their ankles every single day. Children often sprain their ankles by playing on uneven surfaces or losing their balance. The condition often hurts at first, but the pain subsides and heals itself. In severe cases, however, especially if you heard a “pop” when the injury happened, pain can amplify over time, the area may swell, and standing on or using the ankle is hard for the patient. This is when your condition might be best diagnosed and treated by a professional.

What Kind of Sprain is it?

The biological, scientific explanation for an ankle sprain is that from unusual movement, the ligaments on either side or both sides of the ankle have torn or stretched. The reason an evaluation by your doctor is helpful is because there are two types of sprains, inversion and eversion. An inversion sprain was caused by the foot or ankle rolling inward. These sprains cause pain along the outside of the ankle. Eversion sprains are less common and can be an indication of a much more serious injury. Eversion sprains cause pain in the inside of the ankle and can affect the tendons and arch of the foot. If you are unable to bear weight on the ankle at all, see your doctor before your condition worsens.

Telling your doctor what you were doing when you sprained your ankle and the position you found yourself in will greatly help in diagnosis. The most common cause of sprains is unusual movement following plantar flexion, when the toes are on the ground and the heel/ankle up. Your explanation and a physical examination may be enough to make a proper diagnosis, or your doctor may order you an X-Ray to be sure you have not broken any bones (fractures) because they can feel similarly. In the case that you've not hurt yourself too badly, you can easily treat yourself at home.

How do I Treat an Ankle Sprain?

Self Care

Professionals have come up with a handy acronym for the treatment of these types of injuries. The acronym is RICE; rest, ice, compression, and elevate. While the injury is fresh, especially if it is quite painful to bear weight on, you will want to avoid any strenuous activity or standing for long periods of time. Dedicate actual rest time to healing your injury. For optimal healing, you can use crutches to get around without adding pressure to the site, however, it may not be necessary if you don't feel pain during movement. You can ice the site every 3-4 for 20 minutes. Avoid icing for longer than 20 minutes to avoid frost bite and inhibiting healing more. The purpose of icing is to reduce swelling which causes pain. 

Support products make great additional treatment aids because they, too, reduce swelling that causes pain. Support products offer the compression component of at-home treatment. Compression not only reduces swelling, it keeps the site warm and encourages circulation of important nutrients like blood and oxygen for healing and more ease of movement. The most supportive product on the market for a sprain would be a splint that immobilizes the area, so it is resting even if you are not. Elevating the injury above your heart (while lying down) will promote blood flow and alleviate pressure put on it by standing during the day. Elevate when you rest.

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Physician Care

Unfortunately, ligament injuries usually require some level of rehabilitation to ensure you don't re-injure or further injure your ankle. Three phases are used to treat sprains, and RICE is only phase 1. Phase 2 involves the rehabilitation necessary to strengthen the surrounding muscles and increase your range of motion after the tendons have healed. It's not until well into phase 3 that you should run, jog, or even walk. Phase 3 involves returning to your usual activity, but while doing maintenance exercises. Even after you've returned to more strenuous activities, you might be prescribed the use of a support product to prevent new injuries to your vulnerable ankle. If the three phases aren't properly carried out you might experience chronic pain, arthritis of the ankle, or instability which might make you vulnerable to further injury of the site.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often the most important part of recovery from any sports related injury of this kind. Do take your doctor's recommendations seriously and be sure you are cleared for any activity you are thinking about doing on a vulnerable body part. Consider keeping support products handy in your home or car to prevent new injuries from happening, but do be optimistic because sprains are very common and usually fully able to heal and recover.

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