A: Ankle sprains occur when the foot rolls or turns beyond its normal arc of motion. Significant injury can occur to these ligaments, particularly on uneven surfaces upon landing. Sprains can be graded from mild to severe, and with severe sprains, significant instability of the ankle bones can occur.
With more severe injuries, a visit to the physician is important. X-rays are necessary to rule out a fracture. On examination, the ligament will be tender, and the doctor may be able to determine the severity of your injury by exam alone.
Treatment for the majority of these injuries is nonsurgical. Most sprains need only a period of protection to heal, and this may take one to two months. Even complete ligament tears can heal without surgery if immobilized and treated appropriately. Surgical treatment for ankle sprains is uncommon and is reserved for injuries which do not respond to appropriate conservative approaches.
Chronic complications of ankle sprains are rare. However, in individuals with persistently unstable ankles with relatively frequent rolling episodes, degenerative changes in the ankle can occur. These changes can result in a chronically-inflamed and painful ankle requiring more complicated surgical approaches.
Information provided by Jon Gehrke, M.D., foot and ankle surgeon, Des Moines Orthopaedic Surgeons, 6001 Westown Parkway, West Des Moines, (515) 224-5220.