Ankle pain is one common orthopedic problem that one may suffer due to several reasons. One of the major reasons for ankle pain may be a sports injury like an ankle sprain or ankle strain. In these, both conditions the symptoms are more or less overlapping. Unlike any other sports injury, the ankle injury is very critical to judge at home. One may need to visit the orthopedic specialist for proper diagnosis about the ankle injury.
An ankle sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments around the joint – a membranous fold that supports bones or cartilages or holds together a joint. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle. Sprains and strains of ankle are one of the most common sports injuries.
Causes for Ankle Sprain
The talus (foot bone) and the ends of 2 of the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) form the ankle joint. This joint is supported by several lateral ligaments and medial ligaments. Most ankle sprains happen when the foot turns inward as a person falls, runs, turns or lands on the ankle joint after a jump. This type of sprain is called an inversion injury. It can lead to overstretching or tear of the ligament supporting ankle joint.
Signs and Symptoms of Ankle Sprain
- Limited ability to move and use of ankle joint and these signs and symptoms can vary, depending on the severity or extent of the sprain. Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens.
Classification of Ankle Sprains
- A 1st degree sprains: involves no gross damage to collagen fibers, and, therefore, no laxity.
- A 2nd degree sprain is a partial tear, with some degree of laxity, but without discontinuity of the ligament.
- A 3rd degree sprain is a complete tear, with abnormal joint laxity, and no discernible end-point to this laxity.
An ankle strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon around the joint. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones.
Causes for ankle strain
An ankle strain is caused by twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon, recent injury or trauma; it also can occur after improperly lifting heavy objects or overstressing the muscles, prolonged and repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.
Signs and Symptoms of a Strained Ankle
Typically, people with a strained ankle experience
- Muscle spasm
- Muscle weakness
- Localized swelling
- Cramping or inflammation with a minor or moderate strain
- Limited ability to move the affected muscle
Patients typically have pain in the injured area and the general weakness of the muscle when they attempt to move it. Severe strains that partially or completely tear the muscle or tendon are often very painful and disabling.
Classification of Ankle Strains
An ankle strain is caused by pulling or twisting a muscle or tendon around the joint. Ankle strains are classified into 2 types; acute and chronic.
- Acute ankle strain is caused by injury or trauma such as a blow to the body; it can also be due to over-stressing the muscles or improperly lifting heavy objects.
- Chronic ankle strains are usually the result of overuse – prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.
How are Sprains and Strains Treated?
Treatment for ankle sprains and strains is similar and can be thought of as having 2 stages. The goal first stage of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. At this stage, doctors usually advise patients to follow a formula of R.I.C.E rest, ice, compression, and elevation for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury.
Rest: Advised for 48 hours after injury.
Ice: Advice the use of an ice pack that can be molded to fit the joint (a bag of frozen peas works well, but if ice cubes are used they should be placed in a plastic bag to avoid ice burns to the skin) for a minimum of 10 min and up to 30 min.
Compression: Bandages are often used; Compression of an injured ankle may help reduce swelling. Examples of compression bandages are elastic wraps and splints.
You doctor may suggest to use some bracing aids like ankle braces to support the healing process.
Elevation: The affected limb helps to minimize the swelling. Resting swollen ankle at or above hip level as much as possible will help.
For people with a moderate or severe sprain, particularly of the ankle, a hard cast may be applied. Severe ankle sprains and strains may require surgery to repair the torn ligaments, muscle, or tendons. Usually, an orthopedic surgeon performs the surgery.
It is essential that moderate and severe ankle sprains and strains be examined by a doctor to allow prompt, appropriate treatment to begin. The information above lists some signs that should alert people to consult their doctor. However, an individual who has any concerns about the seriousness of an ankle sprain or strain should always contact an experienced orthopedic specialist for advice.
The second stage of treatment of a sprain or strain is rehabilitation, whose overall objective is to improve the condition of the injured party and restore its function. The doctor will prescribe an exercise program designed to prevent stiffness, improve range of motion and flexibility and regain the proper strength of the joint. Some patients may need physiotherapy during this stage.
When the acute swelling and pain have diminished, your physiotherapist will teach the patient to do a set of exercises several times a day. These are crucial because they help reduce swelling, prevent stiffness, and restore normal, pain-free range of motion of ankle joint. Your physiotherapist will recommend many different types of exercises, depending on the injury.
Another goal of rehabilitation is to increase strength and regain flexibility of ankle joint. Depending on the patient’s rate of recovery, this process begins about the 2nd week after the injury. A physical therapist will instruct the patient to do a set of exercises designed to meet these goals. During this period of rehabilitation, patients progress to more demanding exercises as pain decreases and function improves.
How to prevent ankle sprains and strains?
There are many things people can do to help lower the risk of ankle sprains and strains:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep muscles strong.
- Practice safety measures to help prevent falls (for example, keep stairways, walkways, yards).
- Wear shoes that fit properly.
- Replace athletic shoes as soon as the tread wears out or the heel wears down on one side.
- Avoid exercising or playing sports when tired or in pain.
- Do stretching exercises daily.
- Be in proper physical condition to play a sport.
- Warm up and stretch before participating in any sports or exercise.
- Wear protective equipment when playing.
- Run on even surfaces.
What is an Ankle brace?
The ankle brace is the supportive wear used for the ankle joint as a preventive measure in sports activities or as a therapeutic use in treating an injured ankle joint.
One may use the ankle brace as a preventive measure in sports activities to minimize the risk of ankle injury or the orthopedic specialist may suggest the ankle braces or ankle support avoid further injury to an already injured ankle or for a quicker recovery from the injury.
But one may have doubt that which type of ankle brace to use and is it really beneficial to use ankle brace to prevent ankle sprains or strains. Let’s explore about various types of ankle braces available these days and which type of ankle brace is beneficial for which condition.
Types of the ankle brace
Ankle braces or ankle supports are broadly available in three types based on the type of material used, they are –
- Soft ankle braces
- Lace-up ankle braces
- Rigid ankle braces
Different type of ankle brace may be beneficial depending on the condition of the ankle.
Soft ankle braces:
These are a basic type of ankle braces that provide mild to moderate compression, support, and warmth to the ankle. These are soft of sleeve-type ankle braces that are recommended where compression and support to the ankle joint are needed and also to provide warmth.
Lace-up ankle braces:
Lace-up braces come with adjustable laces, they are lightweight and most of these types of ankle braces fit in the shoe. Lace-up ankle braces are basically made with canvas, or vinyl or nylon materials. As they are adjustable to the comfort level of the user, they can give rigid support needed and at the same time provide the range of motion that is needed for the healthy ankle joint. They are helpful in individuals with a past history of ankle injuries to provide support and to avoid further harm to the ankle joint. They may also be suggested to the sportspersons like in basketball to avoid injuries.
Rigid ankle braces:
Rigid ankle braces are basically made with harder outer layer material. This type of ankle brace allows the upward and downward movement of the ankle but limits the sideways movement. The sideways movements are risky and may make the ankle joint injure further if the joint is already injured.
When is ankle brace suggested?
Ankle braces are recommended to use as supportive wear or as an aid during the rehabilitation period to ease the recovery by avoiding the ankle joint to undergo further injuries. Ankle braces may also be suggested to avoid the injuries if the patient has already had any history of injury and want to participate in active sports. But in general ankle braces are not suggested for longer durations as they may limit the basic movements that the joint need to be healthy.
Let’s check the details in what conditions and cases these different types of ankle braces are suggested.
For mild support in daily activities:
Soft ankle braces or compression braces or ankle binders are made of stretchable material and are used to give support and warmth to the ankle joint. This type of ankle band or ankle support is generally recommended if the injury is not so severe and there is pain accompanied with swelling.
For support in sports activities:
Lace-up ankle braces serve best for the athletic purpose. The lacy design provides additional feasibility to tie the brace according to the comfort level of the person. Most of these models would easily fit in the shoe. They provide additional support during the sports activities and help as a preventive measure or to avoid further injury if the person has a past history of injury.
For rehabilitative purpose:
These types of ankle braces are generally prescribed by the doctors to give support to the ankle joint in severe injury conditions or in post-surgery conditions. Again they are of different types based on the need. They come as hinged ankle braces and rigid ankle braces.
Some severe conditions may also require braces like walker boots where the movement of the ankle is not advised for quicker recovery from the injury. The orthopedic specialist would decide about the type of ankle brace one has to use. So it is advised to take necessary suggestions from your orthopedic doctor before choosing the correct ankle brace for your condition.
What are the various brands of ankle braces available?
There are many brands of ankle braces available in the market. Below mentioned are some of the ankle brace brands available online. These brands are available on Amazon and can be explored from here.
- Ankle Brace
- BFIT USA
How much does an ankle brace typically cost
The cost of an ankle brace depends on many factors like the brand, materials used to manufacture the brace, purpose the brace is designed for etc. Ankle braces that are designed for rehabilitative need may cost high when compared to normal ankle sleeves that are used for basic ankle compression and support to help ankle pain and swelling. Basically, hinged ankle brace types are priced high as they contain lightweight metals that help to support well and at the same durable too. Typically an ankle brace may cost from Rs200 to 36000. This is the average low to high range in general, but actual ankle brace price ranges vary from brand to brand.
To give a brief idea, few example ankle brace price ranges from an online store such as Amazon are mentioned below –
Bauerfeind Caligaloc Ankle Brace – Priced at MRP of Rs 50,478.00
Alles Tendon Boots Shoes Ankle Foot Brace Support – Priced at MRP of Rs 25,609.00
HITSAN foot sprains ankle brace support – Priced at MRP of 23,109.98
Tynor ankle braces are also available at a discounted price from HealthClues shopping portal
What are the buying options like a local store or online
When it comes to the decision of buying, it purely depends on the need of the ankle brace that you are looking for. If the need is emergency and you have to get it as soon as possible, like for example in case of any fracture scenario, you may have to rush to the nearby store and get the product depending on the need, but if the need of ankle brace is not so immediate, then you may choose to purchase it form an online store. If you are very clear about the type of ankle brace you need then the online option may be the best choice particularly if you don’t have any such orthopedic stores in your place.
Advantages and disadvantages of buying ankle brace from a local store
This option is best if you need the ankle brace immediately like in case of fracture conditions. You would have the feasibility of choosing the right match, size and can check the quality of the product when you physically visit the store. But you may have to spend time searching the local store that provides the type of brace you are searching for. Time and traveling effort are involved in this option.
Advantages and disadvantages of buying ankle brace online
When the need for ankle brace is to protect the ankle from further injury and there is no emergency, then the online option may work the best for most of the patients. The main advantage is you get the product right there sitting in your home. If the patient is not so much online friendly, then also someone from behalf of the patient can order the product online. But one has to consider some precautions before buying it online.
What are the tips to follow when you buy ankle brace online?
Consider these tips if you are about to buy the ankle brace from online –
- Make sure you are selecting the right type of ankle brace for your need.
- If you are not sure which model of ankle brace suits you, consult with your orthopedic doctor or physiotherapist and take their guidance.
- Once you have selected the right match for you, take the measurements thoroughly as mentioned in the ankle brace product description page.
- Check the return policies if the seller has any to make sure if you need to return the product because of any mismatch issue etc.
Why an ankle brace should be used only after doctor’s advice?
As we discussed earlier in this article there are different types of ankle braces available in the market. When it comes to the point of choosing the right match for your requirement, your orthopedic specialist or physiotherapist is the right person to suggest the right kind of ankle brace for your condition.
A wrong choice of ankle brace may even harm rather than helping to cure your condition. If your need is basic protection and giving warmth to the painful ankle joint then the basic type of ankle braces may help, but if the condition is like sports injury or you need it for rehabilitation purpose after an ankle surgery, then your doctor may suggest the right kind of the ankle brace based on your condition.
How to use ankle brace safely?
It is advised to get the usage guidance from your doctor or physical therapist. Because depending on your ankle condition and need the usage may also differ. Some may need to be worn for shorter durations and some may have to be worn all day long. Get the advice from your doctor for proper guidance for your condition.
May feel discomfort in the initial days when you start using the ankle braces, but it should get normal after few days.
Ankle braces are suggested to use for providing the support needed while the patient is under rehabilitation. Along with the use of ankle braces, it is also important to do ankle strengthening exercises as directed by your doctor depending on your condition.
Ankle braces may get damaged as part of regular wear and tear, check the condition of your ankle brace at a regular basis. Keep your ankle brace in good condition by cleaning it regularly as directed by your medical expert or as per the usage direction provided on the product leaflet.
Note: The details mentioned here is for informative purpose only. It is advised to consult your orthopedic doctor or physiotherapist before purchasing any type of ankle support brace to make sure you are selecting the right match for your condition.
Ankle Sprain? How should you take care of it?
Ankle sprain is one of the most common injuries that may occur during sports and everyday activities. You can even have it while you walk. A sprain in the ankle occurs due to the overstretching or tearing of the ligament that supports the ankle.
According to The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon, a sprained ankle can easily be treated with the non-surgical therapies, which are quite effective. So, do not worry at all, and let your ankle heal. The healing can take 4-6 weeks, depending on the severity of the sprain. Meanwhile, you should do the following steps:
Steps to follow in case of Ankle sprain
- RICE therapy (It means rest, ice, compression, and elevation)
- Rest: Take a proper rest, allowing the natural healing, by limiting your walking and moving around. When you walk, use a support like a cane or a crutch. Be careful to avoid any slips that may further harm the injured area.
- Ice therapy: Apply ice on the ankle over a thin cloth for 20 minutes. Repeat it for 4-5 times in a day for the first 3 days after the injury.
- Compression: Compression is effective to reduce the swelling. Wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage applying pressure to the sprained ankle and its surrounding area. Do not apply too much pressure, so that the blood circulation is not affected.
- Elevation: Elevate the injured leg as much as you can. It can help avoid the swelling, and also allows blood to circulate well in those areas to provide faster healing. You can use some pillows to elevate the limb.
- If the pain and swelling do not subside after 2-3 days, then visit your doctor for medical assistance. Your doctor may prescribe you some medication for quick relief. He/she may also suggest an air splint or cast boot to wear.
- The doctor may also advise for rehabilitation therapy to avoid any long-term problems. For every ligament injury, rehabilitation is important, because it helps in complete healing, and also reduces the risk of re-injury.
After you recover, it is important to be careful about the body’s warning signs to prevent the future attack of the ankle sprain. So, you should slow down accordingly if you feel any pain or discomfort in that particular area to maintain the muscle balance, and also keep the soft tissues healthy.
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Dr. Kaleem Mohammed graduated as a Bachelor of Physiotherapy in 2014 from Deccan College of Physiotherapy, affiliated to Dr. N.T.R. University of Health Sciences, Vijayawada, India. Dr. Kaleem is an expert at handling physiotherapy needs of patients suffering from orthopedic and spinal conditions and post-surgery rehabilitation. Dr. Kaleem is associated with HealthClues since its inception where he facilitates diagnosis and advanced consultation with senior doctors. He is also a medical researcher and prolific writer who loves sharing insightful commentaries and useful tips to educate the patient community about fitness, treatment options, and post-treatment recovery.