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What Do You Need to Know About Ankle Sprains?

Did you sprain your ankle? If you're not sure whether the injury is a sprain, strain, break, or something else, take a look at what you need to know about sprained ankles, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

What Is an Ankle Sprain?

You fell, you slipped, or you injured your foot in some other way. Is your injury an actual sprain — or is it something else?

A sprain happens when you tear or stretch the ligaments around the ankle. These ligaments support the ankle, holding the bones together and stabilizing the joint. When you twist, turn, roll, or in some other way overuse or move your ankle awkwardly, you can stretch the ligaments too far. This results in an ankle sprain.

Ankle sprains are graded, based on the severity. These grades include a minor tear or slight stretching (Grade 1), an incomplete tear with moderate swelling and bruising (Grade 2), and a complete tear with severe pain (Grade 3).

In comparison, a broken ankle involves a fracture (more commonly known as a break) in a bone — instead of the surrounding ligaments. While both types of injuries can happen after a fall or misstep, breaks are more likely to result from a direct impact.

Do You Need to See a Doctor for a Sprain?

Even though a sprain is a ligament injury and not a break, you still need to see a doctor. If you fell, slipped, or were in another similar type of accident, you may not know whether you sprained or broke your ankle. The doctor will need to examine the area and perform tests to diagnose the specific injury. After they diagnose the issue, the doctor will recommend a treatment plan.

What Type of Doctor Should You See for a Sprain?

You have a few different options, depending on when you injure your ankle and what the severity of the injury is. If you twist or roll your ankle in the evening, on the weekend, or on a holiday, you may need to seek medical attention at an urgent care clinic or ER. A severe injury or one that leaves you in extreme pain, includes a skin break, or causes other symptoms requires emergency medical attention as soon as possible.

If your injury is minor to moderate or you can call the doctor, you may need to start with your primary care physician. This type of general doctor can evaluate your symptoms and refer you to a specialist. You'll likely need to see a podiatrist, or specialist doctor who treats the foot and ankle areas, for a diagnosis, treatment, and after-care.

How Will the Podiatrist Diagnose a Sprain?

Again, the doctor will need to examine your foot and ankle. Along with a physical exam, the doctor will ask for a health history and for information about the incident. The podiatrist may order x-rays to rule out a fracture.

How Will a Podiatrist Treat a Sprain?

Whether you can see the doctor immediately or you need to wait a few hours, the first step to treatment is the RICE regimen. This acronym stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. While this won't cure the injury, it can help to reduce pain and swelling and stop further damage.

The doctor may also recommend over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. If you can't put weight on the foot, the doctor may also prescribe crutches or immobilize the area with a cast-boot or brace.

As your foot begins to heal, the podiatrist can help you to regain range of motion and flexibility with targeted exercises. You may eventually need to see a physical therapist for ongoing treatment — especially if you have a severe or complete tear.

Do you have an ankle injury? Contact Ankle & Foot Clinic of Everett for more information.

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