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What is a sprain?
A sprain is a stretched or partially torn ligament. The ankle is the most common spot of a sprain, signs of which include pain or tenderness; swelling; bruising; numbness of the foot; inability to walk or bear weight on the joint; and stiffness.
If you’ve had an ankle sprain, there’s a six-fold increase in the chance of re-injury in the next six months, says Catherine Rainbow, MD. Don’t like those odds? This Carolinas HealthCare System sports medicine expert shares ways to minimize risk of re-injury:
At the time of your injury, Dr. Rainbow says, use a stretchable bandage to compress the ankle and elevate it. Ice the ankle daily for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours until swelling decreases. Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to help with your pain and swelling, as needed.
When your ankle is feeling better, try drawing the ABCs in the air with your big toe and work to bear your full weight on the injured ankle. Always seek medical attention for X-rays if you cannot bear weight on the hurt ankle (limping is ok), and if you see significant swelling and bruising. With an X-ray, your doctor can make sure the ankle is not fractured or broken.
Do ankle exercises once the pain and swelling have improved – calf raises, heel drops, stand on one foot – to strengthen the injured area. A doctor or a physical therapist can design an ankle exercise program specific to your injury. Making the muscles surrounding the joint stronger is key to prevention.
Wear an ankle brace or get taped by an athletic trainer, if possible. You should wear a brace for the next 4-6 weeks during athletic activity until the ankle strength has returned to normal.
Dr. Catherine Rainbow is a sports medicine physician at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sports Medicine & Injury Care. She is also one of the official sports providers of the Charlotte Hounds professional lacrosse team. To schedule an appointment with a board-certified physician at one of our eight Sports Medicine & Injury Care locations, call 704-863-HURT or visit CarolinasHealthCare.org/sports-care . Same-day appointment scheduling is available.