Symptoms of an ankle ligament injury
Ligament strains and ligament tears in the ankle are among the most common injuries in sports and leisure. In Europe, approximately 27 million injuries of this kind happen each year. In order to reduce the damage as much as possible and to enable a quick return to sports, it is important to react immediately and efficiently to the supination trauma.
A ligament tear in the ankle is noticeable by a painful and sudden stinging in the foot. If a ligament tears, it sometimes comes to an audible “cracking”. Ligament tears do not necessarily have to be more severe or painful than strains – the pattern of injury must be considered individually.
Once affected, the foot often swells very quickly and can show significant hematomas (bruises). This happens due to damaging the joint capsule surrounding the lower ankle joint. The three lateral ligaments in the foot very rarely tear all at the same time. Especially the rear one is affected by only a few, serious injuries.
If there is a ligament tear in the ankle, time is a key factor, so you want to react immediately. The famous RICE-scheme provides a reliable pattern for initial treatment. It is composed of the requirements to pause the activity immediately and cool the affected area sufficiently. Furthermore, the foot should be supported by dressing material and placed as high as possible in a stretched position in order to improve the blood flow towards the heart and thus to counteract an inflammatory reaction. This reduces the extent of the swelling and the healing processes are promoted. If you do not stop the sport immediately, you are in danger of being surprised by the extent of the swelling. The ankle then almost feels spongy. For cooling, various aids such as sponges, ice lollies, cooling packs or ice spray can be used. Generally, it is important to cool frequently but never too long at a time (10 minutes are sufficient).
For sprays and cool packs, it is important not to apply them directly to the skin. A layer of fabric is sufficient for protection. Dressing material such as bandages support the foot and help the cells of the ligaments to glue together. If you interrupt this process too much, the wound healing is delayed or worse, the ligaments do not completely heal. The risk of re-injury increases inevitably.
It is highly advisable to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Stretched or torn ligaments are most reliably diagnosed by imaging techniques such as MRI. Although trained doctors and physiotherapists can also use practical test methods to distinguish ligament tears from ligament strains, each affected person may have different flexibility patterns in the joints. Therefore you should tell the doctor about the exact injury process with reference to the sport. Functional limitations on the extremities always need to be compared to the other side of the body.
After diagnosis, it is decided whether surgical intervention is necessary or the injury can be treated conservatively. For both options, it makes sense to keep the training deficit as low as possible by means of appropriate exercise. Moderate training to strengthen the core, the arms or easy cardiovascular training with an ergometer make sense, as long as you can do these exercises right and without pain.