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. (Though any ankle sprain can be a serious injury. As you'll see a little later on.)
Still, odds are that higher sprains will be a bigger problem than lower ones. But where is the dividing point? A little-known ankle joint known as syndesmosis. And it makes a big difference because it stabilizes your lower leg bones. And, as it turns out, getting injured above or below that joint can make a major difference in your recovery time. Which is why we classify these ankle sprains differently.
Sprain vs Strain: What's the Difference
Before breaking down sprained ankles by location, it's important to understand the difference between a sprain and strain. If you've sprained your ankle, you've stretched out one or more of the ligaments in your ankle badly enough to cause a tear. (It could be partial or total, depending on the severity of the sprain.) In contrast, with a strain, external forces can cause damage to your muscle fibers, causing them to partially or completely tear.
What are high ankle sprains?
High ankle sprains involve damage to group of ligaments located above the syndesmosis. We think of this as a serious injury. And that's because, when you damage all the supporting ligaments, your ankle becomes destabilized. That’s when you may even need surgery. Especially if you're an athlete who puts lots of pressure on your ankle joints.
Now, that's actually likely, since this kind of injury is more common in athletes. That's because high ankle sprains are usually caused by a quick cut or turn made while you’re running or jumping. Football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball players are all used to high ankle sprain injuries.
Here's the trouble, though. With high ankle sprains, you probably won’t see a lot of swelling or bruising. Instead, you’ll have pain every time you walk, and that pain may radiate up into your leg. That's why you need to see me right away, to rule out other injuries.
Recovery from a high ankle sprain can take anywhere between six weeks and three months. That time depends on how badly you've damaged your ligaments, and if you affected the underlying bone in any way.
In my Houston podiatry practice, I can offer a clinical exam for a high ankle sprain. And I also have an in-office x-ray machine, so we can make sure that you're not dealing with any kind of fracture.
What is a common ankle sprain?
As I said, high ankle sprains happen to athletes. But there's a more common type of ankle sprain that the rest of us usually deal with. This injury involves the ligaments on the outside of your ankle, the ATFL (anterior talofibular ligament.) And that damage is usually caused by rolling your foot in the ‘wrong’ direction.
While high ankle sprains pose a more serious health risk, a common ankle sprain often hurts more. Symptoms include swelling, bruising and lots of pain. Certain spots on your foot will likely feel tender.
Follow this treatment, and you should be back in action quickly. In fact, many athletes can return to their games within a week or two. (Though they'll need to proceed cautiously and keep the affected ankle taped up.) But that's not always the case, so it's important to decide if you're dealing with a minor problem or a major injury.
Small Pain or Major Injury?
As I said, most common ankle sprains happen when you roll your foot. They usually hurt the ligaments on the outside of your ankle, ones that connect your lower leg bone to the bone at the back of your foot. But not all damage is equal. Which is why sprained ankles could mean a slight stretch to your ligaments. But a sprain could also rupture the entire ligament in question.
Unfortunately, it's not easy to assess the level of damage on your own. With a minor or serious ankle sprain, you may still be able to walk. (Though it will be painful.)
That's why the only way to properly diagnose an ankle sprain is to see me in the office. I'll pinpoint the sprain location, and determine if you've got a high or common ankle sprain. After that, we'll come up with a proper treatment plan so you can fully recover from your injury.
Treating high and common ankle sprains
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. (That's why they may even need surgery to restabilize your joints.)
Also, as I just explained, it's very difficult to know what kind of injury you’re dealing with when you first get hurt. That's why it’s very important to come into the office right away after any kind of ankle trauma. I can help you figure out the location of your injury, using a physical exam, and other diagnostic screenings. Then, I can recommend the proper follow up tests, treatments and recovery plans.
Now, 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.
If you are concerned that you are suffering from an ankle sprain of any sort, don't wait to get it treated. Especially with a high ankle sprain, your symptoms could be deceptive, making you think you're less hurt than you really are. That's why fast action is crucial. Because the sooner you get help, the faster the ligaments will completely heal. Contact Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment.