In the grand spectrum of medical ailments, an ankle sprain seems inconsequential--a
minor injury that many people try to push through to get back up to full
speed. But a new study suggests there may be long-term health repercussions.
Research from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, suggests that people
who have ankle injuries such as sprains are more susceptible to arthritis
in the ankle and pain throughout the body during their lifetime, as well
as heart or respiratory problems. The study authors said more research
is needed to explore the possible connections between ankle injuries and
the heart and respiratory issues; the reasons behind them are unknown
right now. But the findings about weakened ankle strength and joint problems,
such as arthritis, underline the fact that a sprain needs proper medical
attention and treatment.
"With an ankle sprain, one of the ligaments keeping the bones in place
is torn or overstretched, so it's natural that if it doesn't heal
correctly, it can cause problems down the road," says
Steven Smith, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at
St. Joseph Health Medical Group in Sonoma County. "And while proper treatment is necessary, people
should avoid hurting their ankles in the first place by taking precautionary
Dr. Smith offers the following ankle injury prevention and treatment tips:
Wear the right shoes. "Get shoes, especially tennis shoes, that are fitted properly,"
Dr. Smith says. "Aim for a comfortable, supportive fit--it can help
cushion the blow from a fall or taking a wrong step, which are both common
causes of sprains. Many athletic shoe stores offer personalized fitting
Stay on level ground. "When it comes to activities such as hiking, trail running or just
walking, it's important for you to watch your step when on uneven
terrain," Dr. Smith. "One wrong move and you can easily twist
and sprain the ankle. If it's a rocky trail, for instance, keep an
eye on the ground. And walkers or runners should build up hill climbs
Keep the ankles strong and limber. "It's simple to throw exercises into a workout routine that
strengthen the ankle," says Dr. Smith, who recommends calf raises
or leg stretches with a resistance band around the foot. "And stretch
the legs before exercising so the muscles are warmed up--it's another
way to guard against injury."
Seek medical attention. "If you do end up with a sprain, you should pay attention to any
swelling, bruising, numbness or stiffness in the foot or ankle area,"
Dr. Smith says. "Those are signs--along with the inability to put
weight on the foot--of injury. See a doctor, who can examine the foot
and may want to get an X-ray or MRI to rule out a possible fracture or
Follow the RICE treatment plan. This acronym stands for the standard treatment in the immediate aftermath
of a sprain:
Rest the foot for up to three days with a mild sprain, or longer if it's
Ice the ankle with an ice pack or ice bath, every two to four hours during
the first few days for up to 20 minutes each time;
Compress, via wrapping the ankle in a bandage, to help prevent swelling
Elevate the affected foot above heart level while resting it, which also
helps with the swelling and bruising.
Don't rush the healing process. "It's hard to slow down because of an ankle injury, but a sprain
needs time to heal properly," Dr. Smith says. "Use crutches
if necessary, or a brace or splint if the ankle needs extra support. The
doctor treating the sprain will recommend how long to avoid exercising,
which will depend on the severity of the sprain. As tempting as it is
to get back to normal routines as soon as possible, it's best to heed
the doctor's recommendations."
Get some therapy. "Once the ankle is healed, ask your doctor about recommended physical
therapy exercises to restore ankle strength and prevent future weakening
of the joints," Dr. Smith says. "These can include stretches,
balancing poses and strengthening moves.”
Steven Smith, MD, specializes in adult reconstructive surgery of the hip
and knee, including partial knee, total knee, and total hip – anterior
approach. Learn more about
Dr. Smith. Learn more about
St. Joseph Health Medical Group.