Soft tissue injuries are quite common in the ankles. Strains, sprains other damage to ligaments, muscles and tendons can occur during physical activity, anytime the foot is placed in an awkward position, and even during casual activities. Fortunately, the acute injuries are usually minor and only take a few days of rest to recover from, but it’s not uncommon for these injuries to be nagging or severe. A person may still experience chronic problems in their ankles if these injuries are not properly managed.
People often use sprains and strains as interchangeable terms, but they actually carry distinct medical definitions. Understanding this terminology will help a patient understand their injury.
Tendons attach muscles to bones and act as a muscle’s anchor. When a tendon is damaged, it’s called a strain.
Ligaments attach bones to other bones and stabilize joints. A sprain occurs when a ligament is damaged, usually from an abnormal twisting or rolling motion.
The type of treatment needed for ankle sprains is based on the grade, or severity, of the sprain. There are three categories of sprains:
Grade 1: slight stretching or tearing of the ligament
Grade 2: a partial tear
Grade 3: a complete tear resulting in significant mobility loss
Most ankle sprains and strains are treated without surgery. The treatment starts with resting and protecting the damaged ankle, followed by restoring flexibility and strength, before finally returning to activity.
Arthroscopic surgery, a minimally-invasive surgical technique, may be used for more severe or persistent injuries. This technique requires the surgeon to insert a pencil-sized instrument with a camera into the joint to view, diagnose and even repair the injury.