An ankle sprain, also known as a twisted ankle, occurs when at least one of the ligaments in the ankle is torn or stretched beyond its normal range.
Athletes are especially susceptible to ankle sprains in sports that involve jumping like soccer, basketball and volleyball. The sprain is one of the most common injuries, particularly among athletes, but also among people in their everyday lives, with about 25,000 reported ankle sprains in the U.S. every day.
Ankle sprains can range in severity from a minor injury in which the ligament is overstretched to a complete tear of the ligament. If a ligament in the ankle is fully torn, some people feel a popping or snapping sensation.
Sprained ankle symptoms can vary from person to person, but one of the clearest signs is pain. Other sprained ankle symptoms include:
- Itching in rare cases
Because a sprain weakens the ankle, people who have had them before are more likely to have them again, especially without proper treatment. This can cause recurrent ankle sprains and other types of chronic ankle problems such as chronic pain and instability.
Similar to sprains, but affecting the muscles around the ankle, is an ankle strain, which is frequently caused by intense physical stress and overuse. One potential source of a strain is heavy exertion while tired, or without warming up or stretching first. Strains are often recognizable by symptoms similar to a sprain, but usually develop gradually with activity rather than a sudden event or movement.
After a sprain or strain is diagnosed, your Sports Medicine doctor may advise you to rest the ankle, ice it and take other steps to reduce swelling as a start to your treatment. The doctor may also recommend crutches or an ankle brace during recovery and prescribe gentle exercises to prevent stiffness and improve your range of motion.
While you are recovering, you may work with a physical therapist to rehabilitate your ankle. The physical therapist could provide you with strengthening exercises and balance training to prevent future ankle sprains. As your ankle injury heals, your physical therapist will gradually add agility or endurance drills so your ankle’s strength and range of motion continue to improve.
A sprained ankle’s recovery time ranges from just two weeks for minor sprains to several months if the injury is more significant. Surgery is rarely needed for ankle sprains, with the exception of extreme cases such as those involving a completely torn ligament or if there are bone injuries or fractures involved with the sprain.