Injury focus: ankle sprain
What is it?
An ankle sprain is an injury which damages the ligaments of the ankle joint. Most common is the inversion sprain,which affects the ligaments on the lateral side (outside) of the ankle. Depending on the severity of the injury, they may be stretched, partially torn or completely torn.
How it happens
There is usually a trip, fall or stumble that puts the ankle into an awkward position while there is weight on it. In combat sports, an awkward foot sweep or trip takedown may be the culprit, or it may happen when throwing a badly judged kick.
What does it feel like?
There is a sudden sharp pain over the side of the ankle when the damage occurs. Depending on how severe the sprain is, there is likely to be swelling and stiffness around the ankle, and it may be painful to walk or put weight on that leg. Occasionally, there may be an accompanying “pop”; contrary to popular opinion, a “pop” does not necessarily indicate a fracture or ligament rupture
When do I need to go to hospital?
Most ankle sprains will not need urgent medical attention. The main concern is ruling out any fracture of the bones around the ankle, or if there is a complete rupture of any of the ligaments. These injuries may need to be immobilised, and in some cases may require surgery. If you experience any of the following, or if you’re concerned that there may be something more serious going on, then it’s definitely worth getting checked out.
- If you’re unable to put weight on the foot.
- If you’re unable to move the foot or ankle at all.
- Visible deformity of the joint.
- Constant pain even when not moving or standing on the ankle.
- Numbness anywhere in the ankle or foot.
- Severe swelling.
- There was a large fall or a major impact.
The use of ice and a compression bandage in the early stages after an ankle injury can help to reduce pain, and may help to control inflammation. Ice can be applied by wrapping an ice pack or bag of frozen peas in a damp t-shirt or towel and putting it over the site of injury for 15 – 20 minutes. This can be repeated every two hours for the next three days.
Once more serious injuries have been ruled out, it’s important to start mobilising the ankle as soon as possible. Encouraging gentle movement within the relatively pain-free range as soon as possible after the injury will help to speed up the recovery process. This can be progressed to weight-bearing and other exercises as pain allows.
Rehabilitation exercises are important with ankle injuries, as repeat ankle sprains are common. These usually begin with simple mobilization, strengthening and balance exercises, and progress up to running, jumping and hopping. This is best done with the help of a sports injury professional.
How long can a fighter with this injury expect to be out for?
Anywhere from a week or two for a minor sprain, up to six months or more for a complete rupture of the ligaments.
What long term problems is it likely to cause?
Minor ligament sprains usually heal well, but may reoccur if they are not properly rehabilitated. Severe ligament tears may leave the ankle weak or unstable even after rehab, and this sometimes needs to be corrected with surgery. Consider seeing a qualified sports injury professional for an individual assessment and rehabilitation programme.