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Ankle sprains are not the same as strains, here's how they are different

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StatePoint Media -- As fall sports heat up for kids, so do 5Ks, marathons and golf tournaments for adults, leading to ankle sprains for athletes of all ages.

"Both serious athletes and weekend warriors often underestimate how serious a sprain can be, and they rush back into action without taking time to rehabilitate the injury properly," says Michael J. Cornelison, DPM, FACFAS, foot and ankle surgeon and president of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS). "While no one enjoys being sidelined from the physical activities they love, quickly diagnosing and treating an ankle injury expedites the healing process. It also reduces the chances of long-term, chronic ankle pain."

To help people manage this painful injury properly, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons is sharing some important insights and facts:

What is an ankle sprain? An ankle sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments, usually on the outside of the ankle. The severity depends on whether the ligament is stretched, partially torn or completely torn, as well as on the number of ligaments involved. Ankle sprains are not the same as strains, which affect muscles rather than ligaments.

What are the causes of ankle sprains? Sprained ankles often result from a fall, a sudden twist or a blow that forces the ankle joint out of its normal position. Sometimes ankle sprains occur because of congenital conditions or previous injuries.

"I always recommend that those who’ve suffered sprains and injuries in the past get their ankles checked for chronic instability as they start new fitness routines," says Dr. Cornelison.

Do ankle sprains require a doctor’s visit? Those with ankle injuries should see a foot and ankle surgeon any time there is bruising or the inability to bear weight on that foot. Receiving a correct diagnosis is essential as different injuries require different treatment. An examination can determine if there is a fracture — which involves a crack or break in the bones that form the ankle joint. It can also differentiate between a high ankle sprain and a lateral ankle sprain.

Can an athlete play through the pain? Whether training for a 5K or quarterbacking for a high school team, getting back in the game is often a patient’s top concern, and athletes may experience pressure from teammates and coaches to play through pain. But rehabilitation of a sprained ankle needs to begin right away. If rehabilitation is delayed, the injury may be less likely to heal properly, and may lead to chronic ankle instability, which is not only painful, but can increase the risk of additional ankle sprains down the line.

How are ankle sprains treated? Most ankle injuries require no surgical intervention, according to Dr. Cornelison, who stresses that foot and ankle surgeons will always choose the most conservative treatment for the best long-term outcomes. In addition to rest, ice, compression and elevation, (also known as RICE) doctors may also recommend physical therapy to promote healing and range of motion, as well as NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation. In more severe cases, or in cases where the injury was initially neglected, surgery may be required to repair the damaged ligaments. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the type and severity of the injury.

For more ankle sprain information and to find a foot and ankle surgeon near you, visit FootHealthFacts.org, the patient education website for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

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