If you’ve got a swollen, painful ankle, it could be a sprain. Here’s what to do if you’ve got a sprained ankle – plus, the optimistic outlook you can expect with proper ankle sprain treatment.
Got a swollen, painful ankle?
It could be an ankle sprain. As the most common injury seen in emergency rooms in the developed world, ankle sprains very often occur during sport. However, you don’t have to be an athlete to suffer an “inversion injury” – where the foot gets forced downwards and inwards with respect to the ankle. All it takes is a simple misstep or awkward landing.
Such a snafu can end up causing you a great deal of pain, swelling and bruising, explains DR CHRIS PEARCE, senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Altius Clinic. While you may find that you can still walk after an ankle sprain, he still recommends taking immediate action with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment to reduce the swelling.
“A bag of frozen peas works well for icing, and using something like a Tubigrip bandage for compression may be helpful initially. Elevating the leg, ideally above heart level, will also help to control the swelling,” he says.
If you’re unable to walk after an ankle sprain or if there is any concern that is more than just a simple sprain, Dr Pearce recommends that the patient goes straight to the emergency department.
Regardless of how bad the sprain seems, Dr Pearce says it’s important to seek medical attention early on to minimise any complications from occurring down the line, such as chronic ankle instability and osteoarthritis.
Early consultation with a foot specialist may be especially necessary, he says, if the main pain is above the ankle bone, as “high ankle sprains” behave somewhat differently than other sprains.
Sprained ankle treatment
In general, physiotherapy is the most effective way of recovering and getting back to sport after simple sprains, says Dr Pearce. In fact, 85 percent of all ankle sprains recover fully with physiotherapy as the sprained ankle treatment solution. Most patients even recover in less than six months.
“A structured physiotherapy programme is the best way to avoid chronic instability. Physiotherapists will work with you on range of motion, strength and, most importantly, proprioception (the ability to know where your foot is without looking at it). If all these aspects return to normal, you ought to be able to return to full sport,” he says. “Ankle braces can be useful during the recovery period, too.”
For patients who find that they cannot resume their pre-injury activities after rounds of physiotherapy, surgical treatment may be needed to repair the injured tissues and stabilise the ankle joint.
“The main indication for surgery is if the patient is unable, even after a good physiotherapy programme, to do the sports or activities they want to do after six months has passed since the injury.”
The good news is that it’s possible to stabilise the ankle and repair ligaments and cartilage arthroscopically with keyhole surgery, explains Dr Pearce, who is chairman of the European Sports Foot and Ankle Surgery Society (ESSKAAFAS) – a group of experts in the field of sports-related ankle and foot pathology, with a special focus on arthroscopy.
The Arthroscopic Brostrom-Gould procedure, for example, requires just three small incisions (less than 1cm) and repairs ligaments using screw-like suture anchors that dissolve over time to be replaced by bone. Typically done under general anaesthetic, the technique takes less than 30 minutes and has an excellent success rate of over 95 percent. Dr Pearce usually sees patients return to playing sport in just four months or less, post-op!
This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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