More than 25,000 people sprain their ankle every day in the United States. And over the course of a year, more than 1 million people see a medical provider because of ankle injuries.
The ankle is a workhorse. It bears more weight per unit area than any other joint in the body, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“The most common ankle injuries are sprains and fractures,” says Dr. Michal Kozanek, an Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Specialist and Surgeon with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Sprains involve muscles, ligaments or tendons, while fractures involve the bones of the foot.”
Common Injury Culprits
Most ankle injuries occur when you twist the joint too far out of its normal range. That can happen while participating in sports or other physical activities, walking or running on uneven surfaces, tripping or falling, rolling your ankle, or experiencing a sudden impact.
“In younger people, ankle injuries tend to be sports- or activity-related or caused by growth plate problems,” Dr. Kozanek says. “In older age groups, we tend to see more fractures than sprains because of osteoporosis or osteopenia where brittle bones become a problem. Those bones tend to heal slower.”
Other common foot and ankle injuries include plantar fasciitis, injury to the peroneal tendons, Achilles heel, and Lisfranc injuries, which involve a ligament in the arch of the foot.
“Some of the injuries involving the tendons and ligaments are harder to detect,” Dr. Kozanek says. “At ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, we have state-of-the-art technology to help us better understand injuries, which greatly benefits for our patients. We also have specially trained musculoskeletal radiologists who can recognize a wide variety of abnormalities, which helps us diagnose injuries.”
When to Seek Care
For a normal sprain, you can start with following the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) protocol, Dr. Kozanek says, adding that it will take some time for the ankle to heal.
“If it’s been a few days and you still can’t stand without pain, or you’re limping significantly, then it’s time to have a provider check the ankle,” he says. “If you can’t walk or have an obvious foot deformity, you should also seek care promptly.”
For fractures, treatment gets a little more involved, especially for compound fractures, Dr. Kozanek says.
“When surgery is required, we are optimized to make that happen as quickly as possible,” he says. “The scanners allow us to see the fracture in three dimensions, which helps us with pre-operative planning to choose the right implants — plates and screws — to repair the injury.”
If you don’t need surgery, your provider may recommend splints or casts to support your ankle. If you do need an ankle brace or other supportive device, ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain has a medical equipment division where you can get fitted at your first visit for whatever orthopedic brace or splint you may need.
To help prevent ankle sprains, Dr. Kozanek offers these recommendations:
- Don’t exercise or play sports when you’re tired
- Warm up your muscles before participating in any sport or exercise
- Do flexibility, strengthening and balance exercises to increase ankle mobility and strength
- Wear appropriate shoes for the activity you’re engaged in
- Replace worn-out shoes — that is, shoes with uneven heels or poor tread on the sole
- Wear shoes that address any foot problems you may have — for example, high or low arches
- Avoid walking or running on uneven surfaces
- Wear boots that support your ankle when hiking
“Ankles are crucial to our mobility, so it’s smart to protect them as much as possible by wearing the proper footwear for the activities we’re engaging in and keeping them strong by having a well-rounded exercise routine,” Dr. Kozanek says. “If you do experience an ankle injury, our care teams are available to help you recover and get back to living your best life.”
Got an ankle injury?
Visit Orthopedic Walk-in Care at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, open seven days a week.