What's the difference between high and common ankle sprains

When it comes to ankle sprains, much like real estate, location is a big deal. As it turns out, high ankle sprains are far more serious injuries than low ones. But where is the dividing point? A little-known ankle joint known as the syndesmosis that is responsible for stabilizing your lower leg bones. And, as it turns out, being injured above or below that joint can make a major difference in your recovery time.

What are high ankle sprains? When you've injured your ankle, only your doctor can tell the location of your problem--and the proper treatment plan!

High ankle sprains involve damage to group of ligaments located above the syndesmosis. This type of injury is considered serious because, when all the supporting ligaments are damaged, your ankle becomes destabilized. That’s when I might even recommend surgery, especially for athletes who put a lot of pressure on their ankle joints.

This kind of injury is more common in athletes, since it’s usually caused by a quick cut or turn made while you’re running or jumping. Football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball players frequently suffer high ankle sprains.

With high ankle sprains, you probably won’t see a lot of swelling or bruising. But you’ll have pain every time you walk, and that pain may radiate up into your leg.

Recovery from a high ankle sprain can take anywhere between six weeks and three months, depending on how badly the ligaments were damaged, and if the underlying bone was affected in any way.

What is a common ankle sprain?

The more common type of ankle sprain involves the ligaments on the outside of your ankle, the ATFL (anterior talofibular ligament.) This kind of injury is usually caused by a rolling of your foot in the ‘wrong’ direction.

Symptoms for this type of sprain often appear worse: you’ll see swelling, bruising and experience lots of pain. Certain spots on your foot will likely feel tender.

But, because stabilizing joints are usually unaffected, the recovery from this type of injury is a lot easier. Rarely, if ever, will you see someone who needs surgery after a common ankle sprain. The treatment process will usually stick to RICE:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation.

Many athletes will be able to return to their games within a week or two, as long as they proceed cautiously and keep the affected ankle taped up.

Treating high and common ankle sprains  By putting pressure on your tibula and fibula (lower leg bones) your podiatrist can help determine if you have a high ankle sprain

After an ankle injury, it’s not always clear where your pain is coming from. And, as we mentioned, some ankle sprains may cause damage to the underlying bone, or may even need surgery to restabilize your joints.

Because it’s very difficult to know what kind of injury you’re dealing with when you first get hurt, it’s very important to see your podiatrist after any kind of ankle trauma. I can help you figure out the location of your injury, and recommend the proper follow up tests, treatments and recovery plans.

If you just lie on your couch with your foot up, hoping for the best, you run a real risk of missing a more serious injury. And that kind of mistake could keep you sidelined for a very long time.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.