Ankle sprains are among the most common sports-related injuries to young adults out there.
They are regularly seen in emergency medicine and can vary in severity, depending on how badly the ankle ligaments are injured.
However, not all ankle sprains are created equal, and if not diagnosed correctly, an ankle sprain can heal badly and result in long-term ankle dysfunction, pain, and the need for surgery.
Here's how to spot a high ankle sprain and ensure you're on the right path to full recovery.
The Physiology of a High Ankle Sprain
So, how can you tell when you've got high ankle sprain and not just a regular ankle sprain? While both types of ankle injuries can be extremely painful, a high ankle sprain is felt more in the lower leg than the ankle itself.
This is because a high ankle sprain relates to more than one set of ligaments. The tibia and fibula are two bones that comprise the lower leg. A high ankle sprain involves pulling two sets of ligaments related to these two bones.
The tibia, also known as the shin bone, and the fibula, the outer leg bone, are connected to the foot via the ''tib-fib'' ligaments. These ligaments, as well as the interosseous membrane, are all damaged during a high ankle sprain.
The severity of a high ankle sprain really depends on how badly the tissue is damaged, though recovery time is generally far longer than that of a regular ankle sprain. This typically varies from 8 weeks to 6 months.
In contrast, a low ankle sprain involves just the fibula, and the ligaments connected to the outside of the ankle. This set of ligaments is damaged when a person ''rolls'' their ankle in an unnatural way.
A high ankle sprain occurs when your foot twists or rotates to the outer side of the leg, straining the “tib-fib” ligaments beyond their natural capability.
Generally, these types of sprains take place during high-impact sports and activities, making athletes all-the-more prone to them.
Sports such as football, soccer, hockey, and wrestling often fall victim to high ankle sprain injuries.
Symptoms of a High Ankle Sprain
The general symptoms of this injury are quite similar to that of a regular low ankle sprain. This includes swelling and throbbing in the injured area.
However, there are a few more specific symptoms related to high ankle sprains, which include:
- Pain radiating above the ankle, throughout the lower leg between the tibia and fibula.
- You may experience increased pain when flexing the foot and ankle bone upwards such as when climbing up the stairs.
- You may have a fractured fibula, but will need x-rays to diagnose this.
- You may not be able to put any weight on your foot at all, indicating a bone fracture and high ankle sprain.
It's vitally important to pay close attention to these less-common symptoms, so that the injury is diagnosed correctly. Otherwise, your injury could heal incorrectly and cause a lifetime of pain.
Diagnosing a High Ankle Sprain
It's important to visit your doctor, or the emergency room, right away. Here, you can have x-rays in order to discern whether you have any fractured bones or torn ligaments.
Generally, your doctor will ask you to point out specific areas of pain related to your ankle. They will also examine you to determine whether the pain is closer to your foot or lower leg.
The location of your pain will help your doctor in determining whether your injury is a low ankle or high ankle sprain. As mentioned, pain in the upper ankle ligaments points to a high ankle sprain.
If necessary, your doctor may also send you off for an MRI or CT scan to determine the severity of ligament strain and bone fractures, if any.
High Ankle Sprain Recovery
The high ankle sprain is a dreaded injury among athletes and sports enthusiasts because it requires plenty of time to heal.
During this period, there are a few proven treatments that can help along the way and speed up your recovery:
- Ice for the swelling: You'll be instructed to ice your ankle every few hours, for 20-minutes at a time
- Compression for swelling: You should also wrap your lower leg with a compression bandage and keep it elevated
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications: This includes naproxen and ibuprofen, which will both help to reduce pain and swelling
- Plenty of rest is required for your injury to heal: You must keep weight off your ankle, and may need a boot and crutches to assist with walking
- Physical Therapy: This is extremely important in the recovery process, and will help to strengthen your tendons and reduce injury reoccurrence
As previously mentioned, recovery time can be anywhere from 8 weeks to 6 months, depending on the amount of soft tissue damage.
How to Tell You're Fully Healed
As an athlete, you might be itching to get back into the game. It's completely understandable, but a high ankle sprain needs time to heal fully.
Only your physician and physical therapist will be able to determine whether you're fully healed and ready to return to action.
During your therapy sessions, you'll be tested on your walking and weight-bearing capability. You may also be asked to jump on one foot to test your pain levels. An x-ray might be required to determine whether you're fully healed, as well.
The bad news is that you may require corrective surgery if there has been too much damage to the tissue between your tibia and fibula. You'll need to wear a boot for at least 3 months post-surgery while you recover.
Generally, the long-term outcome for a high ankle sprain is positive with the correct diagnosis and treatment, but it's imperative you follow your doctor and therapist's instructions for the best results possible.
Find the Best of the Best Recovery
If you've recently fallen victim to a high ankle sprain and need specialized, corrective surgery, it is imperative that you find a foot and ankle specialist to make sure you are on the right path to recovery.
For specialized orthopedic foot and ankle expertise in the New York area, get in touch with us today.