As athletes are drawn to more extreme sports that involve increasingly challenging terrain, the frequency of ankle injuries increases. Depending on the severity, ankle injuries can require an extended period of rehabilitation.
The ankle joint is made up of three bones — the tibia and fibula that make up the lower part of the leg and the talus that is part of the foot. A complex network of ligaments that allow the foot to bend upward and downward holds the joint together.
The principal mechanism of injury involves a forceful overpowering of the ligaments in a variety of directions. This type of injury is known as a sprain. The most common ankle injuries are the inversion, eversion and high ankle sprains.
The inversion ankle sprain is the result of suddenly turning the foot inward and damaging the ligaments on the outside of the ankle joint. An eversion sprain is the consequence of the foot turning outward and stressing the ligaments on the inside of the ankle.
A high ankle sprain is the result of injury to the ligaments that attach the tibia and fibula. It is caused by the sudden rotation of the foot outward.
The best treatment approach to an ankle sprain is the RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Reducing blood circulation to ligaments diminishes the availability of factors that aid healing.
“Sprains can take a long time to recover,” states Dr. Lauren Geaney, Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Connecticut, who specializes in foot and ankle injuries. “Ice and elevation in the early stages and early mobilization and strengthening as soon as the swelling and pain allow. Surgery is rarely needed and almost never indicated during early recovery.”
Appropriate treatment of ankle sprains can avoid having them develop into a chronic problem.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.