An ankle sprain may be caused a variety of different ways, but usually it involves rolling the foot inward. This stretches or tears the ligaments which help balance the foot. A mild sprain may involve stretching of ligaments, and the symptoms include some swelling and mild pain. The injured person will still be able to walk, albeit uncomfortably. With a more serious sprain, ligaments may be torn from each other, or detached from the muscle or bone (which is known as a fracture sprain if a chip of bone is removed.) The patient may be in moderate to extreme amounts of pain, there will be a lot of swelling and bruising. Most likely, they will be able to put weight on the foot, but any movement will be very painful.
The best immediate treatment for a sprain is to elevate it and ice it right away. You should see a doctor, especially if you cannot put any weight on the foot as it may be broken.
For the next week or so, the P.R.I.C.E. treatment should be followed:
- P - Protect the ankle from further injury. Keep it wrapped up, or in a brace. If the sprain is severe, your doctor might put you in a plaster cast.
- R - Rest. That means no sports. No serious activity that requires the use of the ankle. At least for a week or so, and the swelling has gone down.
- I - Ice it every 2 hours, for about 15 minutes at a time. You can put the ice on and off for this time.(The "I" can also stand for ibuprofen. Taking an NSAID such as aspirin (Anacin), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve or Anaprox) will help with pain and swelling.)
- C - Compression. You should use an ACE bandage, wrapped around the foot and up to the calf. Apply the bandage after the ankle has been elevated for a few minutes and remove and re-wrap it if the foot starts to feel cold, or the toes turn blue.
- E - Elevation. Whever you're sitting, try to keep you foot up at knee level. If you're lying down, put your foot up so that it's slightly above your heart. This will help drain fluids that are causing swelling.
After an injury like this, the ankle may be weaker than before, less flexible and balance will be lost (see bum ankles). Start doing light exercises to restore function when the swelling is gone down. One good exercise for flexibility is writing the alphabet with your foot. For strength, pushing against resistance, such as a towel or an elastic exercise band is good. So is the opposite motion, pulling up with the foot against resistance. The best balance exercise is standing on one foot (the injured one). Care should be taken to prevent reinjury. Wear a brace or an ACE bandage while playing sports or during other activities where reinjury could happen (like pub crawls! Drinking and running around are a surefire way to hurt yourself!).
As always, if in doubt see your doctor.