Q: I have a weak ankle that twists easily. What can I do to protect it?
Wearing a good, stable brace can help protect your ankle during activities that put it at risk of twists and sprains. If you walk or run on uneven terrain, for example, or if you’re involved in sports that require a lot of quick changes in direction, a brace can add support and stability. An over-the-counter brace may be enough unless your injuries tend to be severe, in which case you should talk to your doctor about getting fitted for a more restrictive brace. Wear the brace only when you’re doing risky activities, though. You don’t want your ankle to start relying on it. Your ankle still needs to work on resisting the tendency to sprain.
To help when you’re not wearing the brace, visit a physical therapist to learn some exercises you can do at home. The muscles on the outside of the ankle are especially important to resisting sprains. A physical therapist can teach you simple exercises to strengthen your ankle.
Q: What should I do after a sprain to help it heal?
About 60 percent of sprains will get better with RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Icing the injury, applying compression with an elastic bandage, and elevating the ankle above your heart is especially important in the first couple of days after a sprain to help control swelling. Continue resting the ankle and avoid any stressful activities for a couple of weeks until things start to improve. You can wear a compression bandage as long as you need to after an injury to add support and alleviate any swelling.
Q: When should I see a doctor?
If your ankle is still bothering you after six weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. If you’ve sprained the same ankle multiple times before, however, you should see a doctor much sooner. Repeated sprains may be a sign of an unstable ankle, and continuing pain could be a sign of deeper injury to a tendon or to the surface of the ankle joint. A podiatric surgeon can assess your symptoms and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Severe and repeated injuries also raise the risk of a bigger problem down the road: arthritis in the ankle. About 50 percent of people with continuing pain or instability from ankle sprains will develop some degree of ankle arthritis.
Q: How can I prevent arthritis in my ankle?
Ankle stabilization surgery can prevent arthritis and many other problems for a lot of people with chronic ankle instability. It does require some time off your feet, but there’s strong research to show that people who have this surgery do much better in the long run.