Older Texans may remember Seabiscuit, the racehorse that became a symbol of the winning underdog (underhorse?) just before World War II. But did you know that Seabiscuit’s career was nearly ended by a sprained ankle?
Well, technically the injury was a sprained suspensatory ligament. But it was close enough to the ankle area that we can ride Seabiscuit to the subject of human ankle injuries.
Sprained ankles are one of the most common conditions we see here at the clinic. The stories about how it happened— ‘I missed the stair’; ‘I came down awkwardly after a jump’ and— our staff favorite— ‘I stepped on my teammate’s foot’— range from the mundane to the tragic. One comment they all share: It hurts!
Many people tell us they didn’t take the injury seriously at first. Others report that they felt a ‘pop!’ when the injury occurred. Others don’t even remember injuring the darned thing.
Don’t Try to Walk it Off
Some patients hobble in to see the doctor after days, or even weeks, after it starts to hurt. This is due to one of several misconceptions about an ankle sprain.
- The first wrong assumption is that it will heal itself. Of course, nature has a way of dealing with sprains; you will be getting around within a few days. But if an ankle sprain is not treated properly, it can result in chronic instability and early arthritis.
- The second misconception is that you can ‘walk it off’. If we had a silver dollar for every time we’ve heard a patient say they tried that tactic, we could buy the best racehorse in Texas!
- A third assumption is that ankle sprains are not serious. Anything that interferes with mobility is serious. Patients may have a bone fracture as well as ligament sprain. This can lead to complications if it’s not treated and rehabbed properly.
There are actually several ligaments that support your ankle. It’s a vulnerable area and especially unstable in people who are prone to weak ankles.
Even those who were not born with weak ankles are susceptible to twisting and stumbling. Runners and other athletes who train on grass or other uneven surfaces have a high incidence of injury, as do young athletes who go all-out on the 99-yard line.
That doesn’t rule out the fashion models and city chicks who totter on hard cement atop six-inch spike heels.
Quick Turn of the Ankle, Long-Term Damage
An ankle sprain can be severe or mild, depending on whether a ligament is stretched or torn, and whether it is partially or completely torn. The most common site of an ankle sprain is the area above the outside of the foot.
(A sprain is not the same as a strain, which affects muscles rather than ligaments, and the treatment is different for each condition.)
We categorize ankle sprains into grades according to the severity of the injury. Grade I injuries usually start to heal in a few days. Grade II sprains need more time. Grade III injuries usually fail to heal properly without intervention.
Treatment varies as well. In some cases, a cast or brace may be prescribed. Foot Surgery is an option for athletes or for people who’ve endured repeated sprains.
Even if you turned your ankle some time ago, you could still benefit from a visit to the clinic. Chances are, by now you have chronic instability— which is another ankle sprain waiting to happen.
If you have an injury, there are exercises we prescribe to strengthen the ankle. This type of therapy focuses on improving your balance and aiding rotational movement.
After a short period to reduce the swelling and inflammation, during which time we’ll have you apply ice and elevate the foot, we urge patients to get back on their feet and keep moving— to the doctor’s office, if they haven’t already done so.