The wrenching pain of a recently sprained ankle is not easily forgotten. This annoying injury will come back vigorously as the years go by. Easy enough to treat and thus overlooked, this injury could cause bigger problems down the road if not properly looked after from the beginning. Any sport that puts stress on the ankle could result in a sprain; likewise, just walking down the street and tripping on uneven ground may cause this annoying mess to start.
What Actually Happens
The ligaments within the ankle become stretched during the process of a sprain. This happens because the ankle is stretching past the normal range of movement. Stretching out those ligaments prevents them from ever returning to normal elasticity, like an overstretched rubber band. Additionally this stretching hinders the ability of the ligaments to communicate with the brain. Thus, ankle coordination is lost. Loss of balance and weakness due to this injury are all too common.
Long Term Effects
Clinical problems may arise later on in life due to this ligament injury. All of these problems could be late onset, occurring months or even years after the injury. Chronic stiffness is not only painful but it could lead to other health issues such as loss of ankle dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is the movement of the toes toward the head in a standing or laying down position. Chronic stiffness will keep this movement to a minimum and cramp the muscles compensating such as the thighs. In addition, walking can become more difficult and the muscles in the upper leg and pelvis will begin to malfunction. All of this results in lower back pain and, possibly, hip bursitis.
Treatment and Prevention
All of these issues can be prevented with simple exercises supervised by a physical therapist. Single leg balancing in bare feet will strengthen the ankle muscles. After the sprain has healed, the muscles of the foot and ankle need retraining in order to function properly again. The maximum amount of stability will be reached once those muscles are strong again. Once balancing barefoot on the floor no longer fatigues the ankle, try moving to a pillow, foam pad or BOSU ball. On each one wait for the exercise to fatigue the muscles again before moving to the next level. Calf-style strengthening will also help. Face the wall with the sprained ankle two-three feet from the wall. Point the toes at the wall with knees gently bent and hands on the wall. Gently lean forward until a small stretch is felt on the top part of the ankle. Hold this for ten to fifteen seconds and repeat.
A sprain in the past could present itself in any of the aforementioned issues. Carefully asses how the ankle moves: is one more flexible than the other is? If the answer is yes then it is in your interest to visit a physical therapist to asses how much retraining your ankle requires. PhysioDC is an excellent physical therapy center located centrally in the Washington D.C. area. Daniel Baumstark and his team of professionals are ready and willing to get you back on your feet in no time.