By Jason Lake, MD, an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert, Ariz.. He can be reached at (480) 964-2908.
Question: I think I sprained my ankle. How do I know if I need to see a doctor?
Answer: Ankle sprains usually occur after a twisting injury. Pain, swelling, and bruising are usually noted on the outside or lateral portion of the ankle but may occur elsewhere.
Some people are unable to bear weight after the injury. Ankle sprains may be mild, moderate or severe based on the damage to supporting structures.
Mild sprains often improve in a couple of days without treatment. Rest, icing, a compressive wrap and elevation may speed recovery. Long-term problems or recurrence are not usually noted.
Moderate sprains may have more severe and persistent symptoms, and the patient may not be able to bear weight on it initially. Initial treatment is similar, but patients may require a period of immobilization with a brace or boot. Rehabilitation of the ankle is important to prevent recurrence.
Severe sprains have the most severe injuries to the ligaments and are more likely to have associated injures to the bones, tendons, or cartilage. Patients are usually unable to bear weight. These patients require a brace or boot and will have a more prolonged rehab program supervised by a physical therapist or athletic trainer.
Surgery is rarely indicated and usually reserved for associated injuries or for those injuries that fail to improve with prolonged rehabilitation. When counseling my patients, I always stress the importance of patience in recovery because their ankle sprain may be different than the one their friend sustained.
An evaluation by a physician may be necessary if you are unable to bear weight or if symptoms, such as limping, persist beyond several days. The physician will rule out other serious injuries that may have similar symptoms. Often, the opinion of an orthopedic surgeon may be sought.