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Lateral Ankle Sprain

Ouch! There you were walking along minding your own business when a hidden divot in the ground tripped you over. Your foot rolled under you and now you’re in pain. You’ve sprained your ankle.

What Is a Lateral Ankle Sprain?

When you roll your ankle and that action stretches, or even tears, the ligaments holding your ankle together, it’s called an ankle sprain. It’s most likely that you’ve sprained the outside of your ankle.  How can we know this? Well, the outside (or lateral part) of the ankle is one of the most frequently sprained joints in the body. The ligaments connecting the tibia (on the inside of the leg) to the talus are stronger than those connecting the fibula (on the outside).

This means that these ligaments are more prone to injury. Also, the ligaments on the lateral side are much more flexible. So, when you run into one of the pesky holes in the ground, you’re much more likely to roll the ankle outwards (a plantar-flexion/inversion) than inwards (known as eversion). Also, an eversion is less likely to damage the deltoid ligament as it’s so strong. (That’s not to say it can’t be damaged – perhaps your foot got forced into eversion when you landed badly while playing sports or you missed your footing on the stairs. If you have suffered from a medial ankle sprain, please make an appointment with us on (03) 9776 1600 asap as these can be very serious injuries.)  

Who is at risk? 

So lateral ankle sprains are common. They’re particularly common among those who play sports where pivoting to change direction is the norm. This includes dancers and anyone unfortunate enough to not see a divot in the ground before stepping in it! Your odds of suffering a lateral ankle sprain go up further if you have hypermobile joints, are particularly tall or heavy, or if you have wide feet. And, very unfairly, you’re particularly likely to suffer from lateral ankle sprains if you’ve already sprained your ankle in the past (more on this later.)

How do I treat it?

The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is the first step for all such injuries. Everyone leads such busy lives that it’s tempting to try to fast-forward through this process, but even a relatively minor ankle injury can be made much worse if you don’t let it heal. If your body is sending your brain pain messages, then you need to keep your weight off the injured foot, ice it for twenty minutes every two to three hours, wrap it in a compression bandage and prop it up above your heart level. Every injury and every patient is different, but RICE is generally considered effective for up to three days. Of course, if your ankle is still hurting two days after the injury (or if you’re aware of other complications) then you need to make an appointment for more advanced treatment as soon as possible. Your osteopath is here to help.   

Whether it’s possible for the damaged joint to bear weight is telling. If this is not painful a day or two after injury, then it’s likely the damage to the ligaments is mild and everyday movement can soon be resumed with proper strapping and support. But if it’s excruciating or if bruising and swelling can still be observed it’s likely that a more significant injury has occurred, and an extended period of relative rest will be required along with further treatments.

At Patterson Allied Health can assist with assessing the injury, providing hands-on treatment and if required help you with strapping to support your ankle through the healing process.

Its stopped hurting so much now what?

Once normal movement can be resumed it’s our priority to make sure that movement is just that – normal. We hope to see a return to a full range of motion through the ankle, strong balance, and healthy movement throughout the body. Compensatory movement patterns can be a problem. Subconsciously you adjust your stance or gait just a little to reduce pain in the short term and somehow, without your full awareness, this new movement pattern becomes your “new normal,” making you vulnerable to further injuries. It’s also likely that your proprioception, the sense of your body’s position and movement, has been reduced, again without your conscious awareness.

When ligaments, bones and nerves are injured, the brain’s understanding of the foot and its position relative to the ground is reduced. Combine this with a loss of strength in muscle and stabilising tendons, and balance is ultimately diminished. So, a horrible cycle of repeated injury begins. (And if your balance is already compromised those holes in the ground are going to get you more often – so unfair!)  The good news is that at Patterson Allied Health we’re here to support you in your recovery. Ligaments and tendons can be strengthened. They respond to training more slowly than muscle, but they do respond. Your osteopath can work with you to build an exercise programme to maximise theses potential gains in ligament strength. Similarly, balance can be improved through conscious work on the skills of proprioception. Normal movement with strength, stability and balance is our goal so that you can return to the sports and dance forms you love. Just watch out for those holes in the ground!

Sprained ankle? Give us a call on (03) 9776 1600 or email us at admin@pattersonalliedhealth.com.au to make an appointment.

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