The ankle is a weight-bearing joint where three bones meet. These are tibia, fibula of the lower leg, and the talus of the foot, sitting on top of the heel bone. These bones are held together by a strong band of fibrous tissues called ligaments. The ligaments are capable of only slight stretch. When these tissues are torn or overstretched, it can lead to ankle ligament injuries. Acute ligament injuries are common in sports such as rugby, netball, and hockey.
How Ankle Ligaments Get Injured
Most ankle ligament injuries happen when the foot twists inwards. All of the body’s weight is then shifted on the lateral ankle ligaments. The ankle fibres stretched or tear in ankle sprain or strain. In some cases, small bone pieces may be torn off with the ligaments.
The most commonly ligament injuries seen in acute ankle ligament injuries is the lateral ankle joint ligament sprains. A sprained ankle may occur when a ligament around your ankle joint becomes injured.
Ankle ligament sprains are usually graded on the basis of severity.
Grade I – mild ligament stretching without macroscopic rupture or joint instability
Grade II – partial ligament rupture with moderate pain and swelling. Functional limitations slight to moderate instability are present and usually, a person experiences issues in bearing weight.
Grade III – a severe condition where there is a complete ligament rupture with marked pain, swelling, hematoma, and pain. There is a significant impairment of function with instability.
Symptoms commonly include pain, often sudden and severe swelling and bruising. A person may have difficulty walking or bearing weight on the injured joint.
The symptoms of a sprain and of a fracture are very similar. Sometimes fractures can be mistaken for sprains. This is the reason why it is important to have an ankle injury evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
If it’s a mild sprain, the swelling and pain may be slight. If the sprain is severe, there is much swelling and the pain is usually intense.
Managing Acute Ankle Ligament Injuries
Severe ankle sprains need medical care. You might not know if you have a fracture, therefore it is better to be evaluated by a medical professional.
First thing you can do about your injury is to use the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method. Apply ice to your injury as soon as possible. Cover your ankle with wet towel and place an ice bag over it. You can also substitute ice with frozen corn or peas. Ice should be applied for 10 to 30 minutes on and off for 48 to 72 hours. Stay off your feet. Elevate your injured ankle on a level higher than your hips. Compress your injury with an elastic bandage. Your doctor may prescribe medications and recommend using crutches for the first few days.
Rest is ultimately important for your body to repair itself. Exercising may be discouraged if your sprain has not healed yet, otherwise it would worsen your injury and increase the chances of re-injury. Rest the sprain until it is pain-free.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe a full ankle rehabilitation programme to bring back the function of your joint and help prevent future ankle sprains. This role is done by a physiotherapist. If surgery is involved, rehabilitation is essential in order to restore strength and range of motion. Depending on the extent of injury and the amount of surgery that was done, your recovery time may vary.
Once you can stand on your ankle again, your physiotherapist will prescribe exercise routines to strengthen your muscles and ligaments and increase your flexibility, balance and coordination. Once it is healed enough, you may walk, jog and run figure eights with your ankle taped or in a supportive brace.
To prevent future ankle ligament injuries, pay attention to what your body tells you. It may show warning signs such as pain or fatigue. Always stay in shape with good muscle balance, flexibility and strength.
Acute ligament injuries are no fun at all if they degrade your performance in a sport you should excel on. Talk to any of our Perth physiotherapist for help. Call i Physio Perth today at 9444 8729!