How To Keep a Sprained Ankle From Becoming Chronically Unstable

Feb 20, 2023
How To Keep a Sprained Ankle From Becoming Chronically Unstable
A sprained ankle may not be life-threatening, but that doesn’t mean it can’t become an ongoing problem. If you’ve sustained an ankle injury, here’s what you should know to avoid additional issues in the future.

It’s incredibly easy to sprain an ankle. So easy, in fact, it’s one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in the country. After all, it only takes a single misstep to injure this part of your body. However, most people don’t know that up to 70% of people who sustain an ankle sprain end up with ongoing issues, including chronic ankle instability.

Fortunately, handling an ankle sprain correctly can help reduce your risk of suffering persistent problems. And the first step involves working with an expert when you have a foot or ankle injury, even if it doesn’t seem serious.

At Align Foot & Ankle Center in Camarillo and Santa Barbara, California, Hai-En Peng, DPM, FACFAS, provides cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments for foot and ankle problems, whether minor or complex. If you sprain your ankle, they recommend following these steps to avoid chronic ankle instability in the future.

The basics of ankle sprains

One of the problems with ankle sprains is that people often don’t give them the attention they deserve. Why? Because they may not seem serious. However, even a minor ankle injury can lead to ligament damage.

When you sprain your ankle, the ligaments — which are tough bands of tissue that connect bones together in a joint — get forced beyond their normal range of motion. This movement causes these tissues to stretch or even tear, triggering the signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle, which often include:

  • Pain, especially when bearing weight
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Bruising and swelling
  • Instability in the ankle and reduced range of motion

It’s also common to hear a popping sound or feel that sensation at the moment of injury.

Properly caring for your ankle

To avoid chronic problems when you injure your ankle, it’s essential to take action when you sustain an injury. Following this four-step plan can help protect your ligaments from additional damage and ensure you heal correctly in the days, weeks, and months to come.

1. Begin the RICE method immediately

If you think you’ve sprained your ankle, stop what you’re doing immediately and work to protect the area and reduce swelling as quickly as possible. The RICE method is a great place to start, as it’s a handy reminder to:

  • Rest the area as much as possible
  • Ice the injury to reduce pain and swelling
  • Compress or wrap the area with an elastic medical bandage
  • Elevate the injury above your heart to decrease swelling and pain

These strategies can help avoid additional injury to the ligaments while waiting for medical treatment.

2. Get expert care

Damaged ligaments may not seem as serious as damaged bones, but this important tissue gives your joints stability and prevents excessive movement. Without proper treatment, this can become an ongoing problem.

Ankle sprains typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Grade 1: Minimal ligament stretching, no tearing
  • Grade 2: Partial ligament tearing
  • Grade 3: Full tearing or rupturing of the ligament

During your visit, we can assess your foot and ankle to identify the specific ligaments impacted and the severity of damage they sustained. Then, we can outline a personalized treatment strategy to restore your range of motion in the area and strengthen the muscles and ligaments that provide support.

3. Follow your treatment plan closely

No one wants to spend time sitting on the sidelines, but it’s essential to follow your treatment plan closely when recovering from an ankle sprain. Adhering to our recommendations and rehabilitation plan can get you on your feet as quickly as possible and help prevent reinjury and chronic instability at the same time.

Sprained ankle treatments often include a combination of physical therapy and bracing. In many cases, we also use multiwave-locked system (MLS) laser therapy or shockwave therapy to help with inflammation, swelling, and pain.

For severe ligament damage or injuries that don’t respond to conservative therapies, we may suggest surgical interventions to repair or reconstruct the tissue.

4. Don’t rush your rehab

Patience is key during the recovery process to avoid ongoing ankle issues if you have a sprain.

Even a mild ankle sprain can require up to a month of treatment and rehabilitation. However, more severe sprains can take several months to restore strength and range of motion in the area.

It may not be easy to take your time or follow doctor’s orders while you recover, especially if you notice improvements. But pushing yourself too fast, too soon, or failing to finish your rehab program could increase your chances of reinjury in the days to come.

Did you sprain your ankle? We can give you a thorough evaluation and discuss your next steps. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Align Foot & Ankle Center today.