We talked last week about ankle sprains, how they happen, and what conditions predispose someone to getting one. Let’s now discuss some of the initial treatment available.
Fortunately, most ankle sprains will eventually resolve without long term issues. When compared to bone or muscle, a ligament’s blood supply is significantly less. Since blood carries oxygen and healing factors within it, blood supply partially determines how fast an injury heals. For this reason, ankle sprains heal slower than bone or muscles, resulting in about a 6-8 week heal time. A person can usually engage in full activity 3 months after the initial injury.
Conservative treatment for ankle sprains is what you might expect with any foot injury. After making sure there are no fractures with x-rays, ankle bracing, ankle taping, short leg casting, protection, RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), anti-inflammatory shots, and anti-inflammatory oral medication have all been used to treat these types of injuries. A common regiment for treating ankle sprains is RICE for 2-4 days, followed by ankle bracing and strengthening exercises for a couple weeks. Once you can weight bear without discomfort, a short regiment of physical therapy will help you to regain confidence in the ankle.
You’ll notice that with the exception of physical therapy and anti-inflammatory shots, most of the treatments mentioned can be obtained over the counter. So you might wonder why you need to see your podiatrist. The reason is simple. What may feel like a simple ankle sprain might actually be an ankle fracture. In some cases, an ankle sprain might actually have damaged cartilage in the ankle, or broken one of the leg bones (the fibula) up close to the knee. If these injuries go undiagnosed and undertreated, there may be some irreversible damage done. Although a simple ankle sprain is more common, these other injuries happen often enough to warrant evaluation by a doctor.
If pain persists despite conservative measures, or you are someone who has chronic ankle sprains, surgical options may need to be discussed. At this point, the doctor will probably request an MRI to assist in planning what operation needs to be done. We’ll discuss these options next post.