Updated: Jan 28
Ankle injuries occur when the ligaments that support the ankle get overly stretched or tear. This can be caused by a sudden change in direction or burst in movement, a trip or fall, sudden impact, walking or running on uneven surfaces, and even improper footwear. Keep reading to learn more about common ankle injuries, symptoms, treatment, and expected recovery time.
Ankle sprains are very common, with approximately 30,000 occurring daily in the United States (3). Most sprained ankles occur when ligaments on the outer side of the ankle stretch beyond their typical capabilities. Sprains can range from small tears to ruptures.
Symptoms may include pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, limited range of motion, instability, and a popping sensation at the point of injury.
Treatments vary with the intensity of the injury, classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Medical evaluations are often required to assess the scope of the injury and the appropriate curative regimen. The initial treatment usually involves resting and protecting the ankle until swelling decreases. Further remedies include immobilization using a cast or splint, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and a brace to offer support during activities. Rheopro ankle braces are designed for athletic activity and can stabilize the ankle without compromising mobility and comfort.
Recovery time for ankle sprains vary, but mild sprains typically take one to three weeks to heal. Serious sprains can range in recovery time form three to six months.
Ankle fractures are breakages that occur in one or multiple ankle bones. Fractured ankles can range from a simple break in a single bone to several fractures that can immobilize the afflicted area and require surgery. This type of ankle injury is most common in adults. Stress fractures are only a hairline in width and are caused by the accumulation of force over time. Acute fractures result from traumatic impact to the ankle bones (2).
Common symptoms of a broken ankle include severe pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, malformation, and inability to bear weight.
If your doctor suspects that you may have a fracture, he will order a scan to confirm and assess the breakage. Most ankle fractures can be diagnosed with X-rays, but CT scans and MRIs can provide more insight into the extent of the injury (2). In mild cases, non-surgical treatments, such as the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) may be sufficient. However, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged structures if a serious fracture occurs. Following surgery, the ankle will be protected with a splint and then a cast.
The recovery time depends on the severity of the injury: most take a minimum of 6 weeks to heal, but the involved ligaments and tendons may require additional time. Your doctor will likely prescribe pain medications and draft a rehabilitation routine to regain flexibility, range of motion, and strength.
Tendon strains in the ankle region typically involve the peroneal tendons, which function to protect and stabilize the ankle. These tendons can become inflamed due to excessive use or damage. Subjecting tendons to extreme force can result in acute tears. Tendon inflammation is called tendonitis, and microscopic tendon tears that amass over time and fail to heal may result in tendinosis. Tendons may also rupture or shift out of place.
The most common symptoms of ankle tendonitis include pain, swelling, and stiffness, with pain serving as the initial indication.
Treatment for tendon injuries include immobilization via use of a cast/ splint, anti-inflammatory medication, a brace to offer support, surgery to repair the tendon(s) and surrounding structures, and physical therapy to regain range of motion, strength, and balance.
Recovery from tendonitis is generally a long process that can potentially be extended if the patient fails to abide by his physician's treatment protocols. When recognized at early stages, the recovery period can range from six to ten weeks, while chronic tendonitis can last from three to nine months.
Ankle strains can occur due to overstretching of the muscles that surround and support the ankle.
Strained muscles become inflamed as the body responds to the injury. Symptoms of muscle strains include sudden muscle pangs, muscle spasms, and muscle soreness or weakness.
Severe muscle strains require immediate medical attention. Your doctor may order an X-ray to eliminate the possibility of a fracture and an MRI or an ultrasound to quantify the damage. Mild strains may be treated at home with the RICE procedure and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Severe strains may require surgery and physical therapy to recover muscle strength. While mild strains may take three to six weeks to heal, severe cases can take months for full recovery.
Ankle injuries are extremely common and can happen to anyone. When you’re an athlete, it’s crucial to be proactive when you notice symptoms so that you can take the proper steps to make a full recovery. Always get checked out by a trainer or doctor if you are experiencing pain or swelling, and follow your treatment plan closely to help your body heal.
Learn more about how to prevent ankle injuries here.
1. “Ankle Fractures (Broken Ankle) - Orthoinfo - Aaos.” OrthoInfo. Accessed December 30, 2022. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/ankle-fractures-broken-ankle/.
2. “Ankle Injuries: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention.” WebMD. WebMD, October 4, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/ankle-injuries-causes-and-treatments#091e9c5e804af189-4-10.
3. “Different Types of Ankle Injuries.” The Podiatry Group of South Texas, September 3, 2021. https://www.thepodiatrygroup.com/2021/09/03/different-types-of-ankle-injuries/.
4. Junak, Andrew. “TENDINOSIS Treatment and Management in Active Adults and Athletes.” Peak Physiotherapy and Performance, May 16, 2021. https://p3physio.com/tendinosis-treatment-and-management-in-active-adults-and-athletes/.
5. “Peroneal Tendonitis.” Mercy Health. Accessed December 30, 2022. https://www.mercy.com/health-care-services/orthopedics-sports-medicine-spine/specialties/foot-ankle/conditions/peroneal-tendonitis.
6. “Sprain (Muscle Tear) and Strain Symptoms and Treatment: UPMC.” UPMC Orthopaedic Care. Accessed December 30, 2022. https://www.upmc.com/services/orthopaedics/conditions-treatments/sprains-strains#treatment.
7. “Sprained Ankle.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, August 11, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sprained-ankle/symptoms-causes/syc-20353225.