Ankle sprains are the twisting of a joint, leading to pain, swelling, and injury of the ligaments not the muscle or tendon. Ligaments are the dense collagen fibers that connect bone to bone. Tendons connect bone to muscle and are elastic and less dense than ligaments, allowing them to stretch more easily. Sprains can range from a few traumatized fibers to a complete rupture. Ligaments tend to tear when stressed; but if the ligament does get stretched it will not rebound to its original length and will not be able to stabilize the joint as well as it did before the injury. Ankle sprains are very common, especially in active people. Most ankle injuries involve rolling outward and stressing structures on the outside of the foot. Some of the most common causes of ankle injuries are: lack of conditioning, lack of warming up and stretching properly, previous history of an ankle sprain, inadequate shoes, and uneven ground.
Sprains are more serious than a strain; a strain is the overstretching of a muscle. Because tendons and muscles are more elastic and less dense they will stretch before a ligament does. Ankle sprain recovery takes more time than muscles take to recover because they do not have the same rich blood supply and does not have the same access to circulation. One way to differentiate a sprain from other injuries, is that sprains swell much more than muscle strains or tendonitis. Swelling is the body’s way of protecting the joint, not allowing it to move. Before ankle sprain recovery can begin, you must identify the signs to ensure you have actually suffered a sprain and not another type of ankle injury. Sprains usually show signs of inflammation: (pain, heat, redness, and swelling). There will also be loss of function from the rapid swelling, making it extremely painful to move. Injured ligaments can occasionally lead to more serious problems, so you should see a healthcare professional if you have the signs and symptoms of a severe sprain.
A long time ago sprained ankle treatment consisted of hot soaks and total immobilization. Both of these treatments were counter-productive: heat increases edema and the accumulation of scar tissue, and immobilization prevents the fibers from becoming aligned properly. Today RICE therapy is the most commonly used method for sprained ankle treatment.
R = rest I = ice C = compression E = elevation
The benefits of RICE therapy are clear:
• Rest to prevent any further damage
• Ice keeps the edema (swelling) down
• Compression does the same
• Elevation also encourages lymph flow drainage of the already impacted area
Moving the joint within the range of pain tolerance as soon as possible after injury is also important. Friction, stretching, and gradually increasing weight-bearing stress are the interventions that work best for ankle sprains and don’t forget RICE.
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