What exactly is an ankle sprain and can it be serious enough to require ankle surgery?
Everyone knows what a sprained ankle is, right? Your foot turns when you step off of a curb or land wrong after jumping to block a shot while playing basketball. It might even be something as simple as a slight stumble caused by a throw rug or catching the edge of a step. Whatever the cause, the result can be painful.
We may initially hope that the pain we immediately feel in one of these situations will quickly pass, but, once we realize that it isn’t going away and that it is accompanied by swelling, difficulty in putting weight on that foot, weakness in the joint and bruising, we typically self-diagnose a sprained ankle. That assessment comes even sooner if, at the time of the injury, we hear the telltale “pop” or “snap” that sometimes announces an injury to one of the ligaments in the ankle.
But, what has really happened to our ankle? What is an ankle sprain?
The ankle is an extremely important joint, connecting the leg bones to the foot and facilitating a wide range of movements, including the ability to stand, walk, run, jump, twist, bend, pivot and flex. It is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When bones are injured, we call it a break or fracture. Muscles and tendons develop strains and ligaments are sprained.
Ligaments in the ankle are composed of fibrous tissue that is formed into bands and assigned the function of connecting the bones in the ankle joint. Whenever there is movement in the ankle that goes beyond what one of the ligaments is capable of handling, the result can be that it is overly stretched or even torn. This is an ankle sprain.
Types of Ankle Sprains
The three main classifications of ankle sprains are inversion, eversion, and high ankle and are defined by whether the injury is to the lateral ligaments, syndesmotic ligaments, or medial (deltoid) ligaments, all of which are located in the ankle joint.
- Inversion ankle sprain – this is an injury to the lateral ligaments and is usually the result of a movement that forces the ankle to roll inward. Because the lateral ligaments are the weakest of the ankle ligaments, this is the most common type of ankle sprain.
- Eversion ankle sprain – less common than an inversion sprain, this is an injury to the medial or deltoid ligament caused by an outward roll of the ankle.
- High ankle sprain – professional athletes are more prone to high ankle sprains, especially those involved in high-impact sports like football, hockey, basketball and soccer, where the likelihood of receiving a forceful blow to the ankle is much higher. Besides being the result of trauma to the syndesmotic ligaments, a high ankle sprain can also be caused by extreme twisting motions, which makes skiers and skaters especially vulnerable.
Treatment for a sprained ankle will vary depending upon the severity of the injury. Options will range from simple rest, ice, and elevation for a minor sprain all the way to surgery for chronic ankle instability resulting from severe or repeated sprains.
If you have questions or concerns about any foot or ankle issues, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon with Ortho-Care Wayne in Passaic County New Jersey and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC.
To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.