Frequently Asked Questions about the Ankle
If you have injured your ankle for the first time, you may have a lot of questions about the type of injury you have. An ankle sprain is the most common ankle injury. If you are a visual person, use our infographic on ankle sprains to learn everything you need to about your injury. If you have questions, check out these frequently asked questions and get on the road to recovery.
I just sprained my ankle! What do I do next?
Nonsurgical treatment options depend on whether your problem is an ankle sprain or ankle instability.
What do I do immediately after spraining my ankle?
The best results after an ankle sprain come when treatment is started right away. Treatments are used to stop the swelling, ease pain, and protect how much weight is placed on the injured ankle. A simple way to remember these treatments is by the letters in the word RICE. These stand for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest: The injured tissues in the ankle need time to heal. Crutches will prevent too much weight from being placed on the ankle.
- Ice: Applying ice or cold packs can help ease pain and may reduce swelling.
- Compression: Gentle compression pushes extra swelling away from the ankle. This is usually accomplished by using an elastic wrap or ankle support.
- Elevation: Supporting your ankle above the level of your heart helps control swelling.
Mild pain relievers help with the discomfort. Anti-inflammatory medications can help ease pain and swelling and get people back to activity sooner after an ankle sprain. These medications include common over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen.
As treatment progresses, it is helpful to gradually begin putting weight through the joint. Casts have fallen out of favor because soft tissues weaken when they are kept immobile. But braces that can be worn to support the ankle, but still allow weight bearing, are the most popular treatment for helping reduce strain on the healing tissues.
Healing of the ligaments usually takes about six weeks, but swelling may be present for several months. Your doctor may suggest that you work with a physical therapist to help you regain full range of ankle motion, improve balance, and maximize strength.
Why does my ankle feel unstable?
If the ankle ligaments do not heal adequately, you may end up with ankle instability. This can cause the ankle to give way and feel untrustworthy on uneven terrain. If your ankle ligaments do not heal adequately following an ankle sprain, your doctor may suggest several things.
Changes in your footwear may be prescribed to help keep your ankle from turning in. Placing a heel wedge under the outer half of your heel blocks the ankle from rolling, as does a flared heel built into your shoe. In extreme cases, doctors may prescribe a plastic brace, called an orthosis, to firmly hold your ankle from rocking side to side. Some patients feel a sense of steadiness from wearing high-topped shoes. Patients with ankle instability should avoid wearing high-heeled shoes.
Physical therapy treatments will likely be initiated to help restore joint range of motion, strength, and joint stability. Many people who have ankle instability have weakness in the muscles along the outside of the leg and ankle. These are called the peroneal muscles. Strengthening these muscles may help control the ankle joint and improve joint stability.
What's the difference between an ankle sprain and an ankle strain?
A sprain is an injury to a ligament, and a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Strains can occur without a sprain, however, when you have a sprain you will almost always have a strain.
What degrees of ankle sprains are there? How severe is my ankle sprain?
Sprains are categorized into three types of sprains – First Degree, Second Degree and Third degree.
First Degree Sprain - This occurs when the ankle is taken past its normal range of motion and the ligaments that hold the joints together have been overstretched but not torn. Symptoms include little to no swelling, which is usually localized directly over the sprained joint. Mild pain and limited range of motion also occurs. Weight bearing and walking are still possible. Usually you can engage in normal activities within 1-2 weeks.
Symptoms of First Degree Sprain
- Mild pain
- Little or no swelling
- Little or no joint instability
- Slight stretching or tearing to the lateral ankle ligaments
- Some joint stiffness or difficulty walking or running
Second Degree Sprain - This is the most common type of sprain and includes mild partial ligament tears with swelling and stiffness in the joint. This sprain will inhibit weight bearing or use of the joint. Symptoms can include intense swelling, moderate pain and moderate loss of motion or use of the joint. Walking can be difficult. Normal activities can return within 2 to 4 weeks of the injury.
Symptoms of Second Degree Sprain
- Some tearing of the ligaments
- Moderate instability of the joint
- Swelling and stiffness in the ankle joint
- Moderate to severe pain and difficulty walking
Third Degree Sprain - This injury is much less common and usually requires medical attention. This sprain is usually total rupture of a ligament. The symptoms are intense swelling, extreme loss of motion and intense. The healing time is usually 12 weeks to 1 year and can become a chronic condition depending on the way the ligament is repaired or the way it heals.
Symptoms of Third Degree Sprain
- Complete tear or rupture of a ligament
- Severe pain initially followed by no pain
- Instability of the joint
- Severe swelling
What type of Ankle Brace do I need?
The type of ankle brace you require depends on the severity of the injury.
Mild or Light Weight Ankle Braces are for those who have experienced a First Degree Sprain or mild strain.
Moderate or Medium Support Ankle Braces are for those who have experienced a Second Degree Sprain and are more active in sports with lateral or side to side movements. Moderate supports can also be used as a preventative brace to help avoid injuries.
Maximum Support Ankle Braces are for those who have experienced a Third Degree Sprain or severe ankle sprain and have ankle instability. Maximum braces will help with treatment of these severe sprains and can be used by those who participate in extreme activities to prevent first time ankle injury or prevent a re-occurring injury.View our selection of Maximum Support Ankle Braces
When should I wear my ankle brace?
If you are using your ankle brace as a preventative device, then you will want to wear your brace while performing any activity that exposes your ankle to any lateral movements such as tennis, basketball, volleyball, etc.
If you are using your ankle brace as a rehabilitative or treatment device you should wear your brace while performing any daily activities to provide more stability and prevent re-injury.