The soft tissues of the ankle can be torn, partly torn or overstretched as an acute traumatic injury which can happen at any age. If it is severe, there may also be bone damage which may not be obvious at first.
Types of Ankle Sprain
In an inversion sprain, which is the most common, the foot and ankle turn inwards, and the lateral ligament takes the brunt of the force, sometimes cracking the fibula, and occasionally the medial malleolus too. In an eversion sprain the ankle twists outwards, straining the medial ligament, with damage to the medial malleolus and fibula in severe cases. In a dorsiflexion sprain the foot is forced upwards, compressing the structures at the front of the ankle. In a plantarflexion sprain the foot is forced downwards, and the soft tissues on the top of the ankle are strained, while those behind the ankle are compressed.
What you Feel During Ankle Sprain
When the injury happens, there may be a lot of pain, or very little. Pain and stiffness may come on later. You may still be able to walk, or at least hobble, putting your foot down. With your foot off the ground, you can usually move the foot up and down, at least a little, but rotation is painful, difficult or impossible. Swelling may develop immediately or later. Bruising may appear around the joint straight away or later. A minor crack in any of the bones may cause localised swelling and tenderness if you press on it.
The amount of pain you feel does not necessarily reflect the degree of tissue damage. If a ligament is completely torn, there may be surprisingly little pain, but the ankle feels unstable and tends to give way if you try to put weight through the foot.
Causes for Ankle Sprain
Ankle sprain can be caused by putting your foot down awkwardly, stepping on a ball or stone, catching your foot in a hole, tripping over the edge of a step or an opponent’s foot, or using sports shoes which do not fit properly, or which have too much or little grip for the playing surface. Ankle sprain happens more easily if you have stiff feet, knees or hips, or have suffered previous sprains or leg injuries which have created imbalance in the leg muscles and impaired your balance mechanisms.
Treatment for Ankle Sprain
For the first few days you may need an ankle support or firm bandaging and crutches. You should try to do frequent short walks taking a little weight through your foot.