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Summer: A Season for Ankle Sprains

by Dr. Mark Birmingham, DPM
Boulder Medical Center

Now that summer is in full bloom, more of us are getting outside and making the most of everything that Colorado has to offer. Here in the orthopedics department at Boulder Medical Center, we’re seeing a sure sign of the warmer season—ankle sprains!  According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), “ankle injury is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in athletes and sedentary persons, accounting for an estimated 2 million injuries per year and 20 percent of all sports injuries in the United States.”

What is a Sprained Ankle?

An ankle sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments in the ankle. Ligaments are bands of tough, fibrous and flexible tissue that connect two bones or hold a joint together. The lateral ligaments on the outside of your ankle provide stability by restricting wobbly, side-to-side movement. these ligaments are most commonly sprained. You can also sprain the medial ligaments, which are on the inside of your ankle. An ankle sprain is a stretching or tearing of one or both of these ligaments.

Some ankle sprains are worse than others. Severity depends on whether the ligament is simply stretched, partially or completely torn, and on how many ligaments are injured. In the most severe cases, a piece of bone may break off or fracture, as well.

Symptoms and Treatment

Ankle sprain symptoms can vary. You will typically experience pain and swelling of the ankle area, although some people with previous sprains might simply feel wobbly. Bruising will likely occur and it may be difficult or impossible to walk.

If you sprain your ankle, prompt medical attention is critical. If the sprain isn’t treated properly you could develop decreased range of motion, persistent pain, or a troublesome condition called chronic lateral ankle instability. Be sure to ice the joint area immediately, elevate your leg, and stay off your foot as much as possible. An emergency room or urgent care provider can give you an initial diagnosis and prescribe temporary treatment. Follow this up by making an appointment with a foot-and-ankle specialist who is experienced with treating ankle sprains and other related conditions. The specialist will fully evaluate your injury, order more advanced diagnostic imaging if needed, and prescribe a treatment plan. Treatment can include splinting or casting, rest and elevation, icing, compression, medication such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy. Surgery may be also be required to repair the damage.

With proper treatment and rehabilitation, your ankle can soon be healthy and strong, ready to transport you through a lifetime of Colorado summers.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Birmingham, DPM, is part of the orthopedics team at Boulder Medical Center. His clinical and surgical expertise includes the treatment of foot and ankle sports injuries, complex deformities, chronic ankle instability, foot and ankle fractures, arthritis, and general foot and ankle care. He has also successfully incorporated foot and ankle arthroscopy in the care of his patients.

A devoted patient advocate, Dr. Birmingham strongly believes that informing and educating his patient is key to the positive outcomes and return to activity. Aside from patient care, he enjoys running, hiking, traveling and keeping current on health and nutrition. Dr. Birmingham and his wife have the privilege of raising their four small children.