An ankle sprain is considered one of the common joint injuries that affect many individuals all over the globe. The ankle sprains are described as injuries affecting one or more ligaments that surround the ankle joints. Injury to the ligaments can range from mild, moderate and severe.
Ankle sprains typically resolve fully but if not treated properly, significant injury is involved or early return to activity; a number of complications can occur such as persistent swelling, prolonged pain, stiffness, instability and even nerve dysfunction.
Chronic or extended pain is the most common complication of ankle sprains. Even severe cases of sprains must be fully healed and free from pain after 8 weeks, thus if pain persists with inflammation, there is likelihood of an undiagnosed fracture, ruptured tendon or cartilage tear.
The extended pain without inflammation develops mainly with injury to the nerves. Take note that chronic pain can disrupt normal walking frequently which can affect the joints in the lower back, hips and knees.
Stiffness is another potential complication of sprained ankles and occurs due to the severe swelling or inflammation. The stiffness of the ankle can be accompanied by throbbing pain and leads to diminished motion, particularly dorsiflexion. After months, diminished range of motion and joint dysfunction can lead to the development of osteoarthritis which is evident by the presence of bone spurs along with reduced joint space in the X-ray results.
The constant swelling of the ankle is triggered by various conditions particularly from torn ligaments that did not fully heal or bone contusion that leads to compression in between the ankle joints as well as damage and impinged blood vessels.
It is important to note that chronic swelling is oftentimes caused by synovitis which involves inflammation of the interior lining of the ankle joint capsules. The persistent swelling of the ankle joint is typically accompanied by low-grade pain but can oftentimes occur without pain.
Instability of the ankle occurs once a sprained ligament heals in a stretched position. This results to a hyper-mobile ankle that moves in an erratic manner. Remember that the instability produces a sensation that the ankle is about to “give away” and can be accompanied by constant low-grade pain and swelling. Ankle instability typically involves constant weakening of the joints and drastically increases the risk for future ankle sprains.
Injuries to the nerves can occur with either significant twisting of an ankle sprain and/or chronic swelling of the ankle that results to pressure on the cutaneous nerves that surround the ankle.
The symptoms of nerve involvement include shooting pain, burning pain, muscle weakness and numbness. All of these are usually aggravated by walking. As for muscle weakness, it often causes re-injury due to the diminished level of coordination. In addition, abnormal proprioception can also occur which affects the stability and balance of the ankle and foot.