The American College of Sports Medicine reports that 25,000 ankle sprains happen each day, accounting for nearly half of all sports-related injuries. Ankle fractures are somewhat less common, occurring 187 times among every 100,000 people. Both can be problematic and may keep you off of your feet for an extended period unless the right treatment plan is prescribed. Here are a few things you should know about ankle sprains and fractures that will ensure you recover in as little time as possible.
Ankle/Lower Leg Anatomy
Three bones come together to form the ankle joint, which is responsible for moving the foot up and down:
- The tibia or shin bone. The knobby protrusion on the inside of your ankle is part of the tibia.
- The fibula is a smaller bone that runs perpendicular to the tibia. The bony protrusion on the outside of your ankle is part of the fibula.
- The talus is a bone in your foot located just above the heel bone.
Found just below your ankle joint is the subtalar joint, which allows your foot to move from one side to the other. Numerous ligaments and tendons surround both the ankle and subtalar joint, providing stability and allowing the bones to adhere to one another.
Common Types of Ankle Sprains
Some common types of ankle sprains are:
- Inversion or lateral ankle sprain-This most common type occurs when the foot becomes overly inverted, causing the outer ligaments to stretch beyond their normal capabilities.
- Eversion or medial ankle sprain-This type happens whenever the foot rolls toward the inside, stretching the medial or deltoid ligament.
- High ankle sprain-This sprain occurs when there is a sudden twisting of the ligaments near where the tibia and fibula meet.
Degrees of Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains are classified into three different degrees:
- 1st degree-The least severe form, it happens whenever the ligaments are merely stretched rather than torn. Mild pain, swelling, and stiffness are common.
- 2nd degree-The most common type, it involves a partial tear to one or more ligaments. With a second-degree sprain, moderate pain, bruising, and loss of motion may be noticed.
- 3rd degree-The most serious, resulting in a complete tear of a ligament. A third-degree sprain may result in severe pain and make walking very difficult.
Types of Fractures
More serious ankle injuries can result in a hairline crack or fracture, which may be classified as one of the following:
- Lateral malleolus fracture-The most common type, it involves a fracture to the fibula bone only.
- Medial malleolus fracture-A type characterized by a fracture only in the tibia bone.
- Bimalleolar ankle fracture-A severe injury in which there is a fracture in both the fibula and tibia bones.
Difference between Sprain and Fracture
An ankle sprain occurs whenever there is damage to a ligament surrounding the ankle joint. A fracture, on the other hand, involves a microscopic crack or break in one of the three bones that make up the ankle joint. Although ankle fractures are far more serious, they are often difficult to distinguish from sprains and may produce many of the same symptoms. X-rays are often needed to determine whether an injury is a sprain or fracture, as well as the degree or type.
Any movement that results in instability of the foot or ankle may cause a sprain or fracture. The odds are greater when performing a strenuous activity that requires very fast, side-to-side motions such as in basketball or tennis. Other causes include:
- Slip and fall accidents on wet or icy surfaces.
- A loss of balance such as when falling down stairs or stepping off a curb the wrong way.
- Performing running or other high-impact activities while on hard surfaces.
- Improper footwear, particularly high-heeled shoes among women.
Benefits of Physical Therapy
Many people shrug off ankle sprains as no big deal; however, recent research from the University of North Carolina suggests that such an injury has long-lasting effects. A study performed on college students with chronic ankle instability (which often results from a sprained ankle) showed that these individuals moved significantly less than others. Another report published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy¸ revealed that 70% of those who sprain their ankles will continue to have problems with them and that 80% will suffer a subsequent sprain.
Physical therapy to treat an ankle sprain or fracture can improve balance, endurance, and flexibility to promote good healing. Restoring proper ankle function is key to improving strength and preventing future injury. Your physical therapist may prescribe exercises to increase your range of motion, in addition to showing you ways to modify certain movements to avoid putting too much stress on the ankles.
If you are bothered by an ankle sprain or fracture, please contact us today to schedule a consultation. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or our main office at 570-208-2787. A Doctor of PT is ready and willing to answer all your questions!
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