Ankle sprains are the most common type of injury in sports, especially basketball. Each year, millions of dollars are spent in emergency rooms nationwide treating ankle injuries.
85% percent of all ankle sprains fall into the category of lateral ankle sprains, 10-14% are medial ankle sprains, and the remaining 1% consist of syndesmotic or high ankle sprains. There are also three different grades of ankle sprains, which refers to the actual severity of the sprain. Each grade has its own set of drawbacks and its own recovery period.
The type and grade of ankle sprain you suffer can tell you a lot about how long you might be sidelined by this injury. Obviously, an in-person examination with a certified medical professional can give you the best info for your specific injury, but this guide can help you get a general idea of the type of ankle sprain you might be dealing with.
Grade 1 Ankle Sprain
This is the mildest degree of sprain, where there is minimal damage to the ligaments. The ankle is stable and should recover in seven to 10 days. The symptoms of a Grade 1 sprain tend to be limited to minor pain and swelling. Most athletes can walk without crutches but are unable to jog, jump or change direction.
When most people say they “sprained an ankle”, odds are they suffered a Grade 1 lateral ankle sprain.
“If you see someone that comes back in a week, they had a Grade 1 sprain,” says New York-based orthopedic radiologist Barry Katz. “A sprain is the tearing of the ligaments, like a rubber band. It can scar, but they will never be the same.” In this case, only stretching and microscopic tearing of the ligament fibers occurs, so the chances of the injury becoming a long-term issue are minimal.
Treated by rest, ice and elevation, athletes should be able to return from a Grade 1 sprain relatively quickly. Dr. Katz enumerates four signs that indicate you are ready to come back from an ankle injury:
- The swelling goes down
- You are able to put weight on the injured ankle
- You have full range of motion in the ankle
- You are able to participate in light physical activity—like running, jumping and cutting—and you can gradually engage in more intense activity
Grade 2 Ankle Sprain
Grade 2 ankle sprains involve a partial tear of the ligaments. They usually cause significant swelling and bruising from bleeding under the skin.
Dr. Katz says Grade 2 ankle sprains can keep you out at least a month, if not longer. He says, “They’re often associated with large amounts of swelling and even bleeding in the joint. You have instability. If someone is out at least three weeks, you can be pretty sure that they have a Grade 2 sprain.”
While most people with a Grade 1 ankle sprain can still put weight on the foot and may even be able to walk quite normally, this is not usually the case with a Grade 2 ankle sprain.
According to TeensHealth, those with a grade 2 sprain will often “benefit from wearing an elastic bandage or an air splint (a cushioned plastic brace).”
Grade 3 Ankle Sprain
A Grade 3 sprain involves torn ligaments—often more than one. You may hear or feel a “pop” at the moment of incident with this type of ankle sprain.
Injuries of this magnitude are quite painful, and walking can be difficult. There is often a lot of swelling and bruising involved.
Dr. Katz says, “The hallmark of a Grade 3 is the joint is unstable, and as a doctor, you can move the bones around in your hand. [A Grade 3 sprain] is a serious problem, and it causes a lot of swelling and bleeding in the joint. If there is too much instability, you may need surgery.” This type of injury can cause you to be out for months, and it makes it more likely you will re-injure your ankle down the line. Recovery from a Grade 3 ankle sprain usually requires a cast, brace or splint that will immobilize the ankle.
Dr. Katz estimates that 30 to 60 percent of people he sees will re-sprain the same ankle at some point; and each time it happens, the likelihood of re-injury increases. As for rehab, Katz recommends physical therapy and ultrasounds to get the joint moving, reduce inflammation and increase mobility.
Decrease your risk of sprained ankles becoming a short and/or long-term problem in your athletic life by following an ankle-strengthening program.
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