Every day, about 25,000 Americans sprain their ankle, usually while participating in sports. But it can just as easily happen while you’re mowing the lawn or walking down a flight of stairs. A twist or turn inward or outward can stretch or tear the ligaments that support your bones and result in pain, swelling, and weeks of recovery.
If your sprained ankle is incorrectly diagnosed or left untreated, you may end up with chronic ankle instability, which could lead to a chain reaction of pain throughout your body. Because your feet and ankles form the foundation for all your other joints, they can be the source of knee, hip, and back pain as well.
As an expert in pain management, Dinash Yanamadula, MD, at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, specializes in determining the root causes of symptoms and treating them at the source. But he also encourages his patients to appreciate the critical role of healthy ankles and to take the following steps to prevent ankle injuries in the first place.
Although a sprain can happen to anyone, anywhere, some ankles are more likely to get injured than others. The difference lies in three important aspects: strength, flexibility, and balance. If your ankles are lacking in any of these areas, you may be at risk for a sprain. To boost your ankles in these areas, consider doing the following:
Gently stretching your ankles will help warm them up and get them ready for action. While being careful not to hyperflex your muscles and tendons, stretch your ankles comfortably for about a minute or so before getting in a game or doing your household chores.
Lunges, dips, squats, and calf raises are all excellent ways to strengthen the muscles in and around your ankles. The stronger your muscles, the better they’ll be able to control movements and withstand situations that could lead to sprains.
Proper balance is key to keeping your body in alignment as you change directions or things in your environment shift. Balance is a complicated concept that involves your ears, eyes, and nerves.
For instance, the nerves in your feet and ankles tell your brain about the type of surface you're walking on — such as rocky, smooth, or uphill — your eyes perceive what’s coming next, and your inner ear detects motion. When they work together, it’s called proprioception, and if any aspect is malfunctioning, you may take a tumble and sprain your ankle or worse.
To improve your balance — assuming your eyes, ears, and nerves are healthy — try challenging yourself. For example, try brushing your hair or your teeth while standing on one foot.
You may have heard that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and this is actually one of the main causes of sprained ankles, especially in sports. If you’re moving in one direction and then suddenly stop and pivot, your joints take the brunt of the force. Whichever joint is the weakest is the one most likely to give way.
Having strong core muscles — the muscles that make up your pelvic region and your trunk — can help you improve your balance and stability and help take the pressure off your joints.
Doing too much, too fast is another typical cause of sprained ankles. It’s important to progress from skill level to skill level only after having mastered the one before it. For instance, you shouldn’t try to hike for hours up a mountain if you haven't prepared your body by gradually increasing your endurance and strength.
Proper rehabilitation, including physical therapy, is key to avoiding chronic instability after a sprain. It’s also an important part of your treatment plan if a sprained ankle leads to knee pain, hip pain, or back pain.
If your pain is severe and makes it difficult or impossible to participate in rehab exercises, Dr. Yanamadula may suggest various pain-relieving treatments, such as joint injections to reduce inflammation, so you can get back on track to a full recovery.
To learn more about sprained ankles and how to avoid and treat them, book an appointment online or over the phone with Princeton Pain & Spine Institute today.