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Sprained ankle

A sprained ankle is an injury that occurs when you roll, twist or turn your ankle in an awkward way. This can stretch or tear the tough bands of tissue (ligaments) that help hold your ankle bones together.

Ligaments help stabilize joints, preventing excessive movement. A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments are forced beyond their normal range of motion. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.

Treatment for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. Although self-care measures and over-the-counter pain medications may be all you need, a medical evaluation might be necessary to reveal how badly you've sprained your ankle and to put you on the path to recovery.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • Pain, especially when you bear weight on the affected foot
  • Swelling and, sometimes, bruising
  • Restricted range of motion

Some people hear or feel a "pop" at the time of injury.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you have pain and swelling in your ankle and you suspect a sprain. Self-care measures may be all you need, but talk to your doctor to discuss whether you should have your ankle evaluated. If your signs and symptoms are severe, it's possible you may have broken a bone in your ankle or lower leg.

A sprain occurs when your ankle is forced to move out of its normal position, which can cause one or more of the ankle's ligaments to stretch, partially tear or tear completely.

Causes of a sprained ankle might include:

  • A fall that causes your ankle to twist
  • Landing awkwardly on your foot after jumping or pivoting
  • Walking or exercising on an uneven surface

Factors that increase your risk of a sprained ankle include:

  • Sports participation. Ankle sprains are a common sports injury. Sports that require rolling or twisting your foot, such as basketball, tennis, football, soccer and trail running, can make you vulnerable to spraining your ankle, particularly if you're overweight. Playing sports on an uneven surface also can increase your risk.
  • Prior ankle injury. Once you've sprained your ankle, or had another type of ankle injury, you're more likely to sprain it again.

A sprained ankle left untreated, engaging in activities too soon after spraining your ankle or spraining your ankle repeatedly might lead to the following complications:

  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic ankle joint instability
  • Early-onset arthritis in that joint

Here are some things you can do to help prevent a sprained ankle.

  • Warm up before you exercise or play sports.
  • Be careful when walking, running or working on an uneven surface.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are made for your activity.
  • Don't wear high-heeled shoes.
  • Don't play sports or participate in activities for which you are not conditioned.
  • Maintain good muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Practice stability training, including balance exercises.
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