What is a Twisted Ankle?

Dan Cavallari

A twisted ankle is an unofficial name for a sprained ankle, which occurs when the ligaments in the ankle joint become torn, either moderately or severely, causing pain, tenderness, swelling, and weakness. Athletes and children are quite susceptible to a twisted ankle injury because they are commonly active, though the twisted ankle can happen to anyone. People can miss a step on a set of stairs, for example, and sprain an ankle. Most sprained ankles heal on their own with rest and proper care, though more severe sprains may need more specific and prolonged medical attention.

A man with a twisted ankle.
A man with a twisted ankle.

The ligaments in a joint hold the bones of that joint together and allow them to flex and move. When a twisted ankle occurs, those ligaments stretch beyond their means, resulting in tears in the fibers that make up the ligaments. If the tearing is minor, the recovery time is generally short, though re-injury is possible and quite likely if the person with the twisted ankle does not allow enough time for proper rest and recovery. More severe sprains that result in significant tearing can take much longer to heal and will require immobilization for an extended period of time. A cast may be necessary, but more often a compression bandage or brace can be used.

Compression helps reduce the swelling in a twisted ankle.
Compression helps reduce the swelling in a twisted ankle.

The RICE treatment is very effective at treating a sprained ankle. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Resting allows the injury to heal on its own; icing the injury prevents or alleviates swelling, which can in turn relieve some pain; compression also helps to reduce swelling and pain, which can in turn help reduce a loss of mobility; and elevation can help prevent blood from building up in the injury, resulting in swelling. This can also help prevent fluid build-up that may result in a loss of mobility or in excess pain.

A twisted ankle is caused by torn ligaments in the ankle joint.
A twisted ankle is caused by torn ligaments in the ankle joint.

Once the twisted ankle injury has begun to heal, the person with the sprained ankle can begin doing mobility exercises to help restore movement to the joint. Exercises should be stopped if pain is felt, though soreness can be expected. Once some mobility has been restored to the ankle and no pain is felt from the injury, the person may begin doing strength training exercises to restore strength to the joint. This will not only help the person return to his or her normal walking movement, but it will also help prevent future injuries by strengthening the ligaments and making them less susceptible to excess stretching or tearing.

Sprains and strains are common causes of ankle pain.
Sprains and strains are common causes of ankle pain.
Most twisted ankles heal on their own with rest and proper care.
Most twisted ankles heal on their own with rest and proper care.

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Discussion Comments

Rundocuri

@raynbow- I've worked with kids who play sports, and major ankle injuries are usually easy to spot. Kids who break bones and tear tendons are usually in agonizing pain, and they will let you know.

Regardless, any type of ankle injury, even those that appear to be minor twisted ankles, should be checked out by a doctor after you immediately get the child off his feet.

Heavanet

@raynbow- That is a tough question because when a person first gets injured, often the symptoms of a serious problem and a minor one are the same. However, there are some key indicators you should look for that would warrant you getting the hurt child to a medical facility immediately.

Sudden, severe swelling, extreme pain, and the inability of the injured person to put weight on the ankle are all bad signs. While the pain of a twisted ankle usually subsides within 30 minutes or so, a major issue would likely cause pain that intensifies and radiates. Finally, other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and feelings of faintness are all signs that a sports injury is probably more than just a twisted ankle.

Raynbow

I recently got a position as an assistant coach for a softball team. My staff and I are very concerned about sports injuries, and want to be proactive when it comes to the kids getting hurt while playing the game. How can we know right away if a child has a minor twisted ankle or if his injury may indicate something more serious like a torn tendon or a broken bone?

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