While ankle sprains and fractures occur most commonly in athletes, these injuries can also affect anyone engaging in physical activity. Dr. Geoffrey Connor, MD, orthopedic surgeon at D1 Sports Medicine, advises how you can best treat an ankle injury.
Remember R.I.C.E. “The initial treatment for a sprain or break is called RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation,” says Connor.
-Rest: “Get to a stable location as soon as possible, putting as little weight or stress on the injured area as possible.”
-Ice: “Put ice on the affected area.” Experts say for the first 24-48 hours, you should apply ice packs every two hours for about 15 minutes.
-Compression: “Compress the area with either a wrap or ankle brace if you have one handy.” Connor says even a towel wrapped with ice will work fine.
-Elevation: “Make sure you elevate the foot above your heart to reduce swelling.”
Sprain or Break? “It can be hard to differentiate because they’re so similar,” says Connor. A sprain will likely cause tenderness below the outer anklebone, toward the foot, while a fracture or break will cause point-tenderness directly on the bone. “After a 24-hour period, if the swelling is getting worse or you’re unable to put weight on the foot, that’s a telltale sign it’s a fracture or break.”
When should I see a doctor? If you’re ever in doubt about the severity of your ankle injury, it’s best to go see a doctor as soon as possible, says Connor. “If there is concern in participation of any kind, it’s better to have it checked out and get the ‘all-clear’ before going back to sports activity or heavy-duty work.”
There’s a short recovery period for fractures. “The typical time frame after an ankle is fractured is to expect healing in about 12 weeks before being back at full strength,” says Connor. He estimates only about 6 weeks of immobilization in a cast, splint or boot with limited or protected weight using crutches.
You can expect to then progress into slight weight bearing and activity with a reduced level of support for the next 6 weeks. “During that time period, you’re doing physical therapy to strengthen the ankle and increase the range of motion.”
Chronic ankle sprains may require surgery. “If we find that rehabilitation, physical therapy exercises and bracing are not working to prevent repetitive sprains, there is a procedure we can do, called the brostrom procedure, that strengthens or tightens the ligaments,” says Connor. Think of it like slack in a fishing line—the line must be reeled in tight to be effective. “That’s essentially what we do: take the ligament and surgically shorten and thicken it, so that it can do its job again.”
By Sloane Hudson
To learn more about Dr. Geoffrey Connor, click here.
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