Your athlete goes down on the field and the diagnosis: ankle sprain. What does that mean? First, it’s one of the most common injuries in soccer, accounting for between 15 and 30 percent of all soccer injuries.
Technically, a sprain is a stretch or tearing of a ligament, the soft tissue that connects a bone to bone. The ankle ligaments, along with the surrounding muscles, stabilize the foot and ankle and allow for normal function. When these ligaments are stretched or torn, you lose some of your ability to stabilize the ankle. Lateral ankle sprains occur when the foot is forced inward beyond its capacity. About 80 percent of sprains are lateral. Medial and high ankle sprains occur when the foot is forced outward or twisted beyond the ankle’s capacity.
Sprains are graded from a 1 to a 3 (mild to severe) depending on the amount of ligament damage. These ratings help medical personnel determine treatment and expected recovery rates.
- Grade 1 (mild) sprains occur when you have mild stretching of the ligament with no lasting length changes in the ligament. Expect little swelling and tenderness, normal range of motion and no mechanical joint instability with this injury.
- Grade 2 (moderate) sprains occur when you have a partial tear of the ligament. Expect moderate pain, swelling and tenderness with a minor loss of range of motion. You will also experience mild to moderate joint instability.
- Grade 3 (severe) sprains occur when you have a complete tear of the ligament. Expect high levels of swelling, bruising and tenderness. Also expect functional losses, abnormalities in joint motion and mechanical joint instability.
So what do you do when you have an ankle sprain? For immediate pain management and to control swelling and prevent further tissue, remember (PRICE) Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Protection may include temporary bracing, taping, or crutches to prevent further damage to the ankle. Follow up with a medical evaluation, especially if there is an inability to bear weight. Long term treatments vary depending on the location and the grade of the sprain.