The ankle is a highly complex joint that facilitates walking, standing, and sitting, and bears much of the body’s weight during upright movement. With its many functions, it is no surprise that the ankle is one of the most frequently injured joints. The most common types of ankle injury are strains, sprains, and fractures.
An ankle injury can occur when the foot meets an uneven or slippery surface while climbing stairs, stepping out of a vehicle, or simply walking. Athletic activities, which can often cause falls or excessive joint stress, also sometimes lead to ankle injury. In any of these instances, the ankle may be twisted inward, also known as inversion, or outward, also referred to as pronation. If this inversion or pronation is severe, a strain or sprain may result.
In an ankle strain, one or more of the muscles surrounding the ankle is overstretched. This usually results in pain, swelling, and possible bruising in the area. Strain is generally the least serious type of ankle injury, and can normally be treated at home. The most effective treatment methods for strain include compressing the affected ankle with an elastic bandage, applying ice to the area, elevating the leg, and taking over-the-counter pain medication. If symptoms do not improve after five to seven days, the injured party should consult a physician to rule out more serious injuries.
Sprain occurs when the ligaments of the ankle are excessively stretched, sometimes to the point of tearing. While the symptoms of ankle sprain — pain, swelling, and bruising — are quite similar to those of strain, sprain is usually a more serious injury which may require long healing periods and even physical therapy. An individual who suspects sprain should compress, ice, and elevate the affected ankle, avoid using it as much as possible, and take over-the-counter painkillers as needed. If symptoms persist after five to seven days, the individual should visit a physician, who may take x-rays to assess the extent of the injury. Depending on the nature of the sprain, the physician may apply a cast, prescribe physical therapy, or even recommend surgery.
Fracture is generally the most serious type of ankle injury, and, in many cases, the most painful. Ankle fractures can be divided into three categories: stress fractures, simple fractures, and comminuted fractures. Stress fractures occur when the outer surface of the ankle bone becomes cracked. Simple fracture refers to a clean breakage of the bone into two distinct parts. In a comminuted fracture, the ankle bone is shattered into small pieces.
Treatment options for ankle fracture depend on the nature of the fracture. A stress fracture may require only a cast which protects the cracked area from further pressure as it heals. In a simple fracture, a physician generally fits the broken bone parts back into place and then wraps the ankle in a hard cast. Comminuted fractures can be quite difficult to treat. Often, a physician must resort to surgery to properly reposition the shattered bone pieces, and occasionally he may insert pins, plates, or screws to hold the pieces in place.