A Sprained Ankle
What’s happening? “When you sprain your ankle, you have usually rolled or turned it,” says Cain. “It’s your body’s job to be able to hold the alignment of the joints, but when you stress a joint too far, the ligaments can be stretched, partially torn, or even completely torn.” When ligaments, those tough bands of tissue that keep your joints stable, get loose and tear, pain inevitably follows. To start the healing process, your body initiates swelling. Sometimes bruising will appear if the ligaments have bled.
Why is your body doing it? Chalk the torn ligaments up to something you did or didn’t do (like warm up before you took that run) or dumb luck (who put that hole right in the middle of the sidewalk?). Once ligaments are torn, your body takes over, giving them time to heal by creating inflammation and pain. “Pain and swelling is your body’s natural way of saying ‘Be easy and gentle with me until this is healed,’ ” says Cain.
What should you do? If you can get up on your tiptoes and there’s no instability, you don’t necessarily need to see a doctor, says Cain. On the other hand, if you “have a lot of bruising and the ankle is unstable and you can’t walk or hop on it,” you should seek medical assistance. To play it completely safe, “it’s a good idea to have a sprained ankle X-rayed,” cautions Fryhofer. “I’ve had patients walk around on a broken ankle they just thought was sprained.” Plus, the doctor may put you in an Aircast—a lightweight but protective brace that you can easily put on and take off—to help you recover quicker.
Depending on the severity of the sprain, an ankle can take days or even months to get back to normal, but it will heal in time. Home treatment should involve RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Ice the ankle for 20 minutes every three to four hours during the first 48 to 72 hours following the injury. Wrap it with a compression elastic stocking or ACE bandage (both of which you can find at your local pharmacy) and elevate it on a bed of cushions whenever possible. And, it probably goes without saying, stay off it as much as possible.