When you injure one or more ligaments in your ankle, typically on the outside of your ankle, it is known as an ankle sprain or sometimes called a ligament sprain/instability. Similar to rubber bands, ligaments are bands of tissue that bind your joints and connect each of your bones together. Ligaments provide you stability in your ankle joint since they limit side-to-side movement.

Not all ankle sprains are the same; some can be worse than others. Your ankle sprain severity depends on whether you have a partially or completely torn ligament or if it’s stretched. It also depends on how many ligaments are involved. A sprained ankle is not the same as a strained ankle, which affects your muscles as opposed to your ligaments.

Symptoms of Ligament Sprain/Instability

Some of the symptoms you might experience with a ligament sprain include:

  • Swelling
  • Soreness or pain
  • Hard to walk
  • Bruising
  • Joint stiffness

The intensity of your symptoms can vary and depends on how severe your sprain is. In some cases, people don't experience any swelling and pain if they have already had a previous sprained ankle. Instead, they might just feel as if the ankle is unsteady or wobbly when trying to walk. Ligament sprain/instability treatment is still needed even you don't experience any swelling or pain with your ankle sprain. Prompt medical attention is recommended no matter how many sprained ankles you have had.

Ligament Sprain/Instability Causes

Typically, a sudden twist, fall, or blow that causes your ankle joint to come out of its regular position cause an ankle sprain. You are more prone to this type of injury if you wear inappropriate shoes, participate in sports, or run or walk on uneven surfaces. You could have even been born with weak ankles or have had previous foot or ankle injuries that leave your ankle weak and can cause sprains.

Diagnosis of Ligament Sprain/Instability Causes

Your Pensacola foot and ankle surgeon will evaluate your injury and obtain a comprehensive history of your symptoms. He will examine and take X-rays or other imaging studies of your foot to help him determine how severe your injury is.

Treatment for Ligament Sprain/Instability

Rehabilitation is critical with a sprained ankle and is started right away. Your orthopedic specialist might suggest the following types of treatments:

  • Keeping off the injured ankle and rest.
  • Applying ice to the area that is injured for about 20 minutes, waiting a minimum of 40 minutes before reapplying.
  • Controlling the swelling with elastic wrap compression.
  • Elevating your ankle and keeping it above your heart to reduce swelling.
  • Participating in physical therapy at the beginning of your rehabilitation program to increase range of motion and promote healing.
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or prescription pain medications if needed.

Surgery might be needed if your ankle sprain is severe. Lateral ankle ligament reconstruction involves having your Pensacola orthopedic surgeon repair your damaged ligament. He will decide on the type of surgery that best suits your individual case depending on the severity and type of injury and your activity level.

Rehabilitation and surgery is often needed and very important. To ensure a successful outcome, you need to complete your rehabilitation program. Keep all follow-up appointments with your orthopedic specialist to ensure the function of your ankle is restored and it heals properly. Ankle sprains are no picnic and it’s essential to follow all of your doctor’s instructions to make a full recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long does it take to recover from a sprained ligament?

Although many people recover within 5 to 14 days from a grade 1 ankle sprain, there's really no specific time period of when you'll move through your recovery stages. Your physiotherapist will conduct a clinical assessment where they'll determine your injury rehabilitation.

Your physiotherapist will progress you through the phases of your rehabilitation as they see your function and clinical assessment improving. They will monitor you closely to avoid progressing you too soon which can lead to re-injury and delay your recovery.

Q: Can you walk with a torn or sprained ligament in your ankle?

Your sprained ankle should be treated properly to prevent instability and chronic pain. You should avoid walking on your ankle with a sprained ligament and rest it. If necessary, use crutches and limit weight bearing. You may put a little weight on your leg if there's no fracture, but if your ankle sprain is severe; your doctor may prescribe you a walking boot or short leg cast that you'll wear for 2 to 3 weeks.

When you're able to stand on your ankle, your healthcare professional will have you work on increasing your flexibility, coordination and balance as well as strengthen your ligaments and muscles with specific exercise routines. Later you can walk with a supportive ankle brace or with your ankle taped.

Q: What does instability feel like?

With an ankle instability, people commonly feel like their ankle is about to give out. Certain things can make it worse such as improper footwear or standing for long periods of time. You may also feel pain with the instability on the outside of your ankle. In some cases, your pain may only feel like a dull ache, while other times it can be extreme. You may even have some swelling or stiffness accompany the pain.

Q: Will ligament instability or torn ligament heal itself?

Some self-treatment on your own at home may be all that's need to heal the instability unless you severely injured your ankle. Recommended self-treatment is typically R.I.C.E. if you start experiencing soreness or pain. R.I.C.E. is an acronym that refers to:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compress
  • Elevate

If your torn ligament or instability gets worse or doesn't heal, your doctor may recommend surgery on your ankle to repair the ligaments that have damage. But, surgery completed by an orthopedic surgeon is generally the last course of treatment for ankle instability.

Q: Will a ligament sprain heal itself?

Most ankle sprains don't require surgery, including a complete ligament tear if it's properly immobilized. Like ligament instability, your doctor may suggest using the R.I.C.E. protocol.

Q: When will I know surgery is required? Who do I need to see?

To have your ankle sprain assessed and diagnosed, you would see a physiotherapist. They will give you a thorough clinical exam and get your history to determine how severe your injury is. You may need a CT or MRI scan or x-rays for your doctor to exclude or confirm specific bone or ligament injuries.