Ankle Pain: Tell Me What to Do
Like any other joint in your body, your ankle may gradually become painful from arthritis.
Most sudden, severe ankle pain results from an acute injury such as a strain or sprain. A strain is a mild stress on a muscle or tendon; a sprain is the stretching or actual tearing of a ligament.
Some orthopedic surgeons consider a severe ankle sprain to be worse than an outright fracture. Severely torn ligaments heal slowly and often poorly, which may lead to repeated ankle sprains.
It is extremely rare for your ankle to become dislocated without an accompanying fracture. Most fractures are actually caused indirectly by a force applied to your foot and transmitted to your ankle. Usually, this force turns your foot either inward or outward, each causing a different type of fracture.
Your ankle joint is very complicated and involves the union of several bones and ligaments. Because of this, in severe ankle injuries, more than one bone is often fractured.
What to do: Treatment
First, “run” to your orthopedic doctor, who will check your ankle and lower leg and suggest X-rays to determine the extend of the injury to the bones and ligaments. Mild ankle strains and sprains without torn ligaments do not require a cast. More severe sprains often require a cast to steady the ankle joint while the ligaments heal. A completely torn ligament usually requires a walking cast for at least six weeks to promote healing and to prevent a recurrence. Avoid putting any stress on your ankle for several weeks afterward.
Occasionally, when an X-ray shows that a ligament is completely torn, your orthopedic doctor may advise surgery to repair the tear. This is specifically true if you are young an extremely active in sports. Follow your orthopedic surgeon’s advise carefully to prevent long-term weaknesses and repeated ankle sprains. It may take as long as three to four months until your ankle has completely returned to normal.
If you suspect an ankle fracture, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Avoid bearing weight on it, apply cold packs, and splint and elevate the ankle during transport to an emergency room. Most experts recommend that you splint the injured ankle with the shoe on and wrap the lower part of your leg with an elastic bandage. Ankle fractures almost always require some type of cast, with the period of time depending on the extent of your injury. Severe fractures that impair the blood supply to your foot or where the bone fragments are sufficiently dislocated to prevent normal healing may require surgery.
You can always judge the severity of an injury by your pain. Sometimes a mild ankle sprain, with a partially torn ligament, is more painful than a completely torn ligament. See your orthopedic doctor if you have any significant pain or swelling or cannot support your weight. Splint or tape the ankle with an elastic bandage an avoid bearing weight on it. You may apply cold packs to relieve the swelling. Basically, any sudden twisting injury causing severe pain and swelling should suggest a fracture until proven otherwise. Compare your injured ankle to your normal ankle. Any deformity or displacement of the bone is a clue to a likely ankle fracture and requires prompt medical evaluation.
Orthopedic Corner | Leon Mead MD Orthopedic Doctor | 730 Goodlette Road North, Suite 201 Naples Florida 34102 | Phone: (239) 262-1119