Diagnosis and Treatment of Ankle Sprains in Wake County

What is an Ankle Sprain?

Ankle sprains are very common injuries, and are a major reason why athletes at all levels are forced to take time away from their sports. Rolling, twisting, or turning the ankle in an unnatural way can cause the ligaments in the area to stretch or tear. Although this injury commonly occurs during sports, it can happen to anyone at any time. A sprained ankle can cause pain and other uncomfortable symptoms that make daily activities more difficult, so it is important that you seek medical attention right away if you believe you have sprained your ankle. At Raleigh Orthopaedic, the members of our team will be here to support you and help you find relief. Learn more below about this common ankle injury, and contact the Raleigh Orthopaedic location nearest you to schedule an appointment today!

What Causes Ankle Sprains?

As mentioned above, an ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the ankle are stretched beyond their limits. Many patients diagnosed with a sprained ankle can recall the exact moment they twisted their foot the wrong way. Sprains can occur during a variety of activities, even while simply walking on an uneven surface. The ligaments of the ankle can tear as the result of a fall or when landing awkwardly after a jump. Athletes from sports that require jumping and regularly reversing direction, like basketball, volleyball, tennis, and soccer, are at a higher risk for ankle sprains.

Symptoms of an Ankle Sprain

Symptoms of a sprained ankle can vary depending on the severity of the sprain. You may feel a popping sensation at the time of the injury, with additional symptoms developing soon after. These can include:

  • Pain, both with and without weight-bearing
  • Pain when touching the ankle
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Ankle instability, or feeling like the ankle is giving way
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Difficulty walking

How are Ankle Sprains Diagnosed?

To diagnose your ankle sprain, your doctor will start with a physical examination. They will move your foot and ankle in different directions to check for pain and tenderness, and will also make sure that your Achilles tendon (along the back of the ankle) isn’t torn as well. In order to rule out other injuries, such as a fracture, your orthopedic specialist may order X-rays. Other imaging tests can also be used to get a clearer picture of the injury and plan out your treatment. An MRI scan may be used to identify torn ligaments and damaged cartilage, while an ultrasound can show your doctor what the ligaments look like when they are in motion. An ankle sprain is usually diagnosed clinically, without the need for additional tests, but they may be helpful in some cases. Once your injury has been properly diagnosed, your care team at Raleigh Orthopaedic will create a treatment plan for you based on the severity of the sprain.

Runner Grabbing Ankle in Pain

Treatment Options for Ankle Sprains at Raleigh Orthopaedic

Nonsurgical Treatment

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In most cases, ankle sprains can be successfully treated without surgical intervention. Ligaments can heal with proper treatment, even when the sprain is severe. Your doctor will let you know what your treatment plan will entail. You will most likely be instructed to follow the R.I.C.E. method – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation – in order to reduce pain and swelling and protect the area from further damage. From there, your doctor may provide you with a brace or cast to hold the ankle in place as it heals. More severe sprains may require physical therapy. Throughout this process, your therapist will teach you exercises to improve your range of motion, flexibility, strength, and balance. Physical therapy is also extremely beneficial for athletes, as they will be able to learn injury prevention techniques to protect their ankle once they return to their sport.

Surgical Treatment Options

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Surgery for an ankle sprain is usually reserved for those who experience persistent ankle instability and pain after several months of nonsurgical treatment methods. It may also be indicated for those with additional injuries to the area. The two main surgical treatments are arthroscopy and ligament repair/reconstruction. During arthroscopy, a small camera called an arthroscope is used to look inside the ankle joint. Small instruments are used to remove loose fragments of bone or cartilage from the joint. Since arthroscopy is a less invasive surgical option, it provides a number of benefits for patients, including faster recovery time, lower infection rate, and reduced scarring. Ankle sprains can also sometimes be repaired with stitches via a ligament repair or reconstruction. The damaged ligament can often be reconstructed using a tissue graft from elsewhere in the body. If surgery is needed for your ankle sprain, your doctor at Raleigh Orthopaedic will explain your options and answer any questions you have about the process. 

How Long Does it Take to Recover from an Ankle Sprain?

In order to have a successful recovery from your ankle sprain, you should follow your doctor’s instructions closely. You will need to spend time resting and protecting the ankle in order to reduce swelling, and from there, you will be able to work towards restoring flexibility, strength, and range of motion. Your care team will let you know when it is safe to return to your sport and use your ankle again. The healing process can take anywhere from four to six weeks, with the longest recovery time reserved for the most severe sprains. The recovery period will be extended if you need surgery on your ankle.

How to Prevent Ankle Sprains

Maintaining increased muscle strength, balance, and flexibility is the best way to keep your body healthy and prevent ankle sprains and similar injuries. You should always warm up before physical activity and be aware when running or practicing on an uneven surface. Choose footwear that provides proper support for your specific sport and incorporate strengthening exercises into your regular routine.

Comprehensive Foot and Ankle Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic

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Raleigh Orthopaedic is Wake County’s oldest and most experienced orthopedic practice, and we want to help you get back to doing what you love. We have served patients of all ages since 1919 and provide comprehensive care focused on various parts of the body, including the foot and ankle. When you visit one of our clinic locations in Wake County, we will take the time to get to know you, understand your symptoms, and help you find relief. To get started with Raleigh Orthopaedic, give us a call or book an appointment online today!