One of the most common injuries I see in clinic is ankle ligament damage, tears and in severe cases fractured ankles mainly due to a sprain. I am going to explain what happens when ligaments tear, what the signs and symptoms are and how to go about getting back to playing sport after the injury.
Ankle ligament injuries are very common across a number of sports including football, rugby, running, tennis and squash. Normally the injury would occur by spraining the joint or ‘rolling’ over on the ankle joint. This motion stretches out the ligaments and other soft tissue structures on either side of the ankle. In most cases, the pain is on the outside of ankle around the joint but can also cause pain on the inside of the joint as well. Signs and symptoms include swelling around the joint that can also be going into the foot and toes, restricted range of motion and inability to walk pain free. In cases where there is a large amount of swelling and you are unable to put any pressure on the injured ankle then I always recommend to go to hospital first and have an x-ray just to rule out any fractures to the bone.
In most cases there is just soft tissue damage to the ankle area, this means that there will be some damage to the ligaments, muscles and tendons surrounding the joint. Immediate treatment consists of using RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) to control the swelling and reduce pain levels, if you are able to take painkillers then I would always advise to take some just in the short term. After the first couple of days treatment from a Sports Therapist such as myself and a rehabilitation plan can begin. This consists of increasing range of movement, strength and functional movement until the point where the injured person can return to activity completely pain free.
There are some people who I see that have suffered from constant ankle problems and have told me that they have had the same ankle problem occur several times. The problem with this is that they didn’t look after their ankle following injury and just rested for a couple of weeks until they were pain free. The problem with this is that it allows something called scar tissue to develop in the joint. This is something that develops after an injury and reduces the strength and elasticity that an area would have had prior to the injury happening. Whilst this scar tissue remains in the joint it also highly increases the chance of re-injury. The purpose of having a through rehabilitation programme is to reduce the chances of the same injury happening again. Research also states that leaving an ankle untreated highly increases the chances of osteoarthritis in the joint. This even applies to people who are as young as ten years old who have injured their ankle.
Despite saying how common this is in sport, I also saw the same injury happen in a non-sporting environment from just stepping off the pavement to falling over after having too many drinks on a Saturday night!
If any of the above sounds like something you are having trouble with or you are trying to strengthen the whole ankle area then please do get in contact.