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  • Writer's pictureDavid Crews

Why Ankle Injuries Should Not Be Ignored

If you trip and roll your ankle, it may not seem too serious. Initially, you might experience swelling or minor discomfort but can still walk on it. You continue to go to work and exercise but while the pain may lessen, it never completely goes away.

An estimated 28,000 people injure their ankle each year, including ligament strains, sprains and bone breaks. Half of these injuries result from playing sports. If ignored, you may find the joint’s range of motion decreases over time or you experience a more debilitating injury in the future.

Instead of playing through ankle pain or “walking it off”, here’s what you should consider.

How Do Ankle Injuries Occur?

Most ankle injuries are classified as sprains, which occur when the ligament is bent or stretched beyond its physical limits. Often the result of routine stress or sudden trauma, this injury can stem from rolling or twisting your ankle. Sprains tend to cause bruising, swelling and can affect the joint’s mobility. Other common ankle injuries include:

  • Bone fractures, including a partial or complete break of the ankle

  • Tendonitis, which occurs when the joint’s tendons become inflamed

  • Gout, which occurs when higher quantities of uric acid accumulate in the blood

  • Arthritis, characterized by stiffness in one or more joints

What Happens When You Ignore an Ankle Injury

Based on past injuries, you may notice that ankle strength and support decrease with time, you can’t place weight or stress on the joint, range of motion lessens or you feel pain. Poor or inconsistent recovery can create scar tissue, which weakens the joint and affects its flexibility.

The joint, as well as your body in general, may experience chronic inflammation that never fully goes away. Considering these possible developments, ignoring an ankle injury also:

  • Prolongs recovery. The inflammation persists, preventing the ligament from healing fully and impacting everyday activities.

  • Affects how you walk. You may find that you shift more weight to one side of your body, resulting in an uneven gait that has a rippling effect through your knees, hips and spine.

  • Creates an unstable joint, resulting in stretched out, weaker ligaments that cannot provide proper support. You may notice this effect as you play a sport or even when you stand.

  • Makes the joint vulnerable to future injuries, which further weaken the muscles and ligaments.

  • Increases your risk for osteoarthritis, as weaker, damaged ligaments place greater stress on the joint cartilage and may cause it to wear away sooner.

What to Do If You Injure Your Ankle

Depending on how well you can walk on it, seek emergency medical treatment or schedule a doctor’s appointment to assess the degree of damage. In the meantime, practice rest, apply ice and compression and elevate your ankle to help the swelling go down. Staying off the joint allows the tissues to heal and start repairing. When you don’t rest, you risk developing chronic pain.

Based on the degree and type of damage, your doctor may recommend:

  • Staying off the ankle for a few days or longer

  • Wearing an air cast as the injury heals

  • Using a brace for temporary support

  • Surgery, if a complete tear or other serious injury has occurred

  • Physical therapy to help strengthen the area during recovery

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