Ankle Sprains 101

ankle sprain

Ankle sprains can occur in an instant, and range from a minor nuisance that resolves itself in a matter of days to an injury that can linger for months. Most commonly associated with pain, swelling, and difficulty walking, ankle sprains can be easily prevented with proper athletic training, preparation, and care. If you do find yourself with a sprained ankle, have no fear—they are easily treated with a combination of rest and strengthening exercises.

The Facts

An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the ankle joint are overstretched and/or torn. A sprain typically affects the ligaments on the outer ankle. Less frequently, it can affect the ligaments on the inner ankle. Ankle sprain is the most common sports injury, frequently occurring during agility sports; that is, those activities that require running and side-to-side cutting. But it’s not just athletes who sprain their ankles. Anybody stepping into a pothole, losing their footing on uneven pavement, or even just stepping off a curb can trigger an ankle sprain.

The Symptoms

The most common symptom of an ankle sprain is pain. When at rest, the pain is typically dull and nagging with a general feeling of tightness on the outside of the ankle. During activity, the pain is much sharper. This pain can be so severe it impairs movement, causing a limp or compensation that requires crutches.

Additional symptoms of ankle sprain include swelling and redness. In cases of more severe sprains, bruising on the foot and ankle is common.

What Is Happening

A sprain is considered a macrotrauma, meaning it is the result of a single traumatic event. In ankle sprains, the ligaments—the fibers that connect bones to other bones—in the outer or inner ankle are overstretched and torn. Ligaments are designed to be fairly inflexible, and their job is to keep the bones aligned with one another. A ligament will only tear when subjected to excessive force. For example, if you jump and land on the outer foot instead of the sole, the weight of your body puts pressure on the ligament in a way it is not designed to support. Since ligaments are inflexible, instead of stretching, they develop tears.

Sprains are classified into 3 grades. A grade 1 involves overstretching the fibers without major tearing. While some swelling occurs, a grade 1 tear involves the quickest recovery—only a couple of days to a week. A grade 2 is a partial tear of the ligament. It typically exhibits more swelling than a grade 1 and can linger for a few weeks. A grade 3 sprain is the most severe and occurs when the ligament fully tears. A grade 3 has the most swelling, and you typically see bruising within the first 24 hours. A grade 3 sprain can take months to fully heal, and sometimes surgery is needed.

Why Is This Happening

Ankle sprains are often the result of a misstep, or a bad landing from a jump. Some of the factors that contribute to missteps and poor landings include:

•Weak muscles
When the muscles supporting the ankle are weak, the ligaments absorb excess stress as they bear the weight the muscles are supposed to absorb. This makes the ligaments more susceptible to injury.

•Fatigue
When the body is fatigued, muscles do not work as efficiently and the body’s reaction time decreases. As such, form during athletic or even everyday activities is compromised and increases the chance of misalignments, missteps, and injuries.

•Ill-fitting footwear
Poorly fitted shoes can affect the overall alignment of the feet, ankles, legs, and hips. A misalignment starting in the foot put disproportionate strain on the ligaments of the ankle and can lead to chronic weakness in some of the muscles of the ankle. Combined, this can increase the chance of an ankle sprain.

Lifestyle Adjustments
  1. Check your shoes. Adjust your shoes to meet the needs of each activity you partake in. For walking or hiking, choose high-top boots to stabilize the ankles when you navigate uneven surfaces. For running, get professionally fitted so your arches are supported and your toes have room to move. Avoid wearing high heels if you anticipate a night of walking out on the town—high-heeled shoes are one of the most prevalent causes of ankle sprains among women. Either choose a lower heel or carry your high heels in your purse to change into once you arrive at your destination.
  2. Test your balance. Each movement we make involves a complex dialogue between the body and brain. Sometimes ankle sprains occur because the body-brain connection is not quick enough to react when we begin to lose our balance. But as with everything fitness-related, balance can be improved with practice. You can develop your balance through exercises like standing on one foot. Once that feels easy, try using BOSU balls and wobble boards to further challenge your balance and enhance your body-mind reaction time. This training will enable you to decrease the chance of tripping and falling that may result in ankle sprains.
  3. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Really! If you’ve have an ankle sprain and/or want to avoid one in the future, there are a few key nutrients you can add to your diet to strengthen and protect yourself. Beta-carotene, found in carrots and dark leafy greens, is an important component to grow and repair your body’s ligaments. Vitamin C, found in peppers, kiwi, and citrus fruits, reduces swelling and aids the immune system in making a speedy recovery. See our list of vitamin C-rich foods for a more complete guide.
Prevent It

1. Ground the Feet. Ankle sprains are often precipitated by improper foot and ankle alignment. When the feet are misaligned and weight is not equally distributed along the soles of the feet, the muscles in the ankles cannot function optimally. This places disproportionate strain on the ligaments in the ankles and makes them more susceptible to injury. Grounding the feet ensures your weight is distributed evenly along the bottom of the feet to improve foot and ankle alignment and reduce the risk of an ankle sprain. To Ground the Feet, first create equal pressure on the left and right foot. Then, imagine points at the base of your big toes, pinky toes, outer heels, and inner heels. Pull the toe stems long and push all four points of the soles into the ground. In everyday life, you can Ground the Feet when you stand in line at the grocery store, brush your teeth, or sit at your desk at work. No matter if you’re seated or standing, connect to the ground beneath you by simply pressurizing through the four points of the soles (with equal weight on both feet) and reach long through the toes.

2. Stabilize the Knees. When dealing with a potential injury, it’s important to assess not only the affected joint but the surrounding joints as well. While the feet are important for proper ankle alignment, so are the knees. Stabilizing the knees will further improve the alignment in the ankles and strengthen the leg and ankle muscles, thus reducing the risk of spraining the ankle. To Support the Knees, imagine a point at the center of each kneecap. Standing naturally, observe whether these points face directly forward or off to the side. Now, adjust the feet so you are standing with your lower extremities parallel, and point the kneecaps directly forward—this will be roughly in line with your middle toes. As you bend your knees, challenge yourself to keep the knees stacked directly above the ankles, with the center of the kneecaps forward. In everyday life, you can Support the Knees while climbing the stairs. Maintain equal pressure on the bases of the big toes and pinky toes. As you climb the stairs, face the hips directly forward, and maintain the alignment of the knees directly over the ankles.

3. Anchor the Hips. The hips are the single largest bone structure in the entire body. This means they are heavy and can create a lot of force. Anchoring the hips will not only enhance the alignment of the hips, but will also aid in supporting the knees and grounding the feet properly to prevent the occurrence of an ankle sprain. This is especially important among athletes and those practicing sports that involve running, pivoting, and rapid weight changes. To Anchor the Hips, make “L” Mudra with your hands. Place your thumbs on your ribs and your index fingers on your hips. The space between the thumb and the index finger is called the side body. This area shortens when you slump or slouch. Increase the space between the index fingers and thumbs to lengthen the side body. Now, draw the lower belly—the space between the belly button and the pubic bone—back toward the spine and up toward the ribcage to engage the deepest layer of abdominal muscle (transverse abdominis). Finally, release the glutes, or butt muscles. To learn to release your glutes, it may help to understand what it feels like to do the opposite—grip the glutes. To grip the glutes, squeeze them together. Now release. In everyday life, you can Anchor the Hips when standing up from a chair. Before rising, lengthen the side body. On an exhale, Ground the Feet, and simultaneously pull the belly in toward the back and up toward the ribcage, and release the glutes to stand.

Fix It

RICE. Immediately after injury, implement the RICE technique—Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. For ligaments to heal properly, they first and foremost need rest. This means limiting weight-bearing movements, like walking, to allow the area to heal and reduce the chance of further injury. Ice the ankle for no more than 20 minutes three to four times a day to reduce excess swelling and expedite the recovery process. Elevate the foot and ankle above the hip whenever possible (like when sleeping or resting) to encourage blood flow away from the affected area. As you begin to return to normal activities, compress the ankle with an ACE bandage to help keep the swelling from returning and provide a little extra stability as the ligament continues to heal.

Exercises

Seated Point and Flex


  1. Sit on the floor (ideally), couch, or bed, and extend legs in front of your body. Equalize weight on sit bones.
  2. Move foot and ankle up to a flex position and down to an extend position as far as possible without pain. You should feel a mild stretch. Stop the motion if you experience pain.
  3. Repeat 10 to 20 times

 

Seated Alternating Point and Flex


  1. Sit on the floor (ideally), couch, or bed, and extend legs in front of your body. Equalize weight on sit bones.
  2. Move right foot and ankle up to a flex position, and left foot and ankle down to an extended position as far as possible without pain. You should feel a mild stretch. Alternate. Stop the motion if you experience pain.
  3. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

 

Heel Raises


  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart and toes pointed forward.
  2. Pull heels high to balance on the bases of all ten toes. Hold for 5 seconds and lower heels.
  3. Inhale; pull heels high. Exhale; push heels to floor.
  4. Repeat 12 times.

 

Single Heel Raises


  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart and toes pointed forward.
  2. Lift right foot about six inches off the floor, bending the knee at a 45-degree angle to stand on one leg.
  3. Pull left heel high to balance on the bases of all ten toes. Hold for 5 seconds and lower heels.
  4. Inhale; pull heel high. Exhale; push heel to floor.
  5. Repeat 12 times on both sides.

 

Foot and Ankle Circles


  1. Sit on the floor (ideally), couch, or bed, and extend legs in front of your body. Equalize weight on sit bones.
  2. Move foot and ankle in as large a circle as possible without pain. You should feel more a mild stretch. Stop the motion if you experience pain.
  3. Repeat 10 to 20 times in each direction.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.