Ankle Sprain

An ankle sprain is one of the most common joint injuries. A sprain means that one or more ligaments, the tough bands that hold the ankle bones together, have been injured.  The injury to the ligament may be mild, causing only swelling and pain, or may be more severe, causing stretching or even tearing of the ligament.

The most common kind of ankle sprain occurs when the foot turns inward, resulting in pain and swelling on the outside of the ankle.  Other types of ankle sprains are also possible.  While most sprains do not also have a fracture (broken bone), more severe sprains may have a fracture.

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Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Adolescent Medicine.

Causes & Risk Factors

An ankle sprain can occur in just about any sport. Running on uneven ground or running in the dark can cause a person to turn their ankle.  Most ankle sprains happen to normal, healthy people.

Symptoms & Types

Symptoms of an ankle sprain usually include pain and swelling.  If an ankle sprain is severe and a ligament has been stretched or torn, the child may hear a “pop” or feel a snap.  He may have difficulty putting weight on the ankle or trouble walking normally. Ankle sprains can be mild, moderate, or severe:

  • Mild – Little swelling and pain. The ligament has not been stretched.
  • Moderate – More swelling and pain.  There may be some bruising. The ligament has been stretched, and the ankle is wobbly.
  • Severe – Large swelling, severe pain and lots of bruising. The ligament has been torn. The patient may be unable to bear weight.

Diagnosis & Tests

Your child’s doctor will make a diagnosis based on the history of an injury to the ankle, finding pain and swelling over the ligaments, and testing the ankle to see if the ankle ligaments have become loose.  An X-ray may be helpful to make sure there isn’t a fracture or another more serious injury.

Treatment & Care

Treatment usually involves:

  • Rest – Avoiding running, jumping and other painful activity until the pain and swelling are gone.  The patient may need crutches for a while.
  • Ice – Applications of ice for 15 minutes at a time to help reduce the swelling and relieve the pain.
  • Compression – Using an elastic bandage wrapped around the ankle can help keep the swelling down.
  • Elevation – Elevating the ankle on a chair or pillow while the ankle is swollen can help reduce the swelling.

Your child’s doctor may also order an ankle brace or boot to support the injured ankle.

Living & Managing

Patients should rely on rest, ice, compression, elevation and use of a brace or boot until the ankle is no longer swollen or painful.  Many patients with ankle sprains may also require physical therapy to regain the strength and balance in their ankle muscles.  Regaining the strength and balance of the ankle muscles is important in order to avoid future ankle injuries.  Patients with severe ankle sprains may have permanently loose ligaments, and may have to use some kind of ankle brace or support in order to return to their sport.