Our feet and ankles undergo a lot of stress. As such, ankle injuries are some of the most common we see here at Sideline Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Let’s talk about four common injuries, their symptoms, and how we can help heal.
The bones of your ankle and feet are held together and supported by ligaments–short bands of tough and flexible connective tissue. When these ligaments are stretched beyond their capacity–usually by twisting or turning too far–they tear, causing a sprain.
This is a super common condition that most of us will experience in our lifetime. Rolling ankles are a common culprit. Athletes especially are likely to experience at least one sprain per sports season!
Most ankle sprains are minor, and can be treated at home with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicine. Symptoms will vary depending on the severity. Minor sprains might see a little bit of swelling with some pain and tenderness to touch. Severe sprains may bruise and swell. If your ankle is painful or unstable to walk on, and is very swollen, then the sprain may be serious. Come to our walk-in clinic or make an appointment so we can assess the injury.
Tendon injuries typically occur at joints, where they experience the most wear and tear. For ankles, you’ve probably heard of the Achilles tendon–named such because in the Greek myth about the siege of Troy, Achilles’ weak spot was the back of his ankle. The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. There’s also the peroneal tendons on the outside of the ankle and posterior tibial tendon on the inside.
Tendons can become inflamed (known as tendonitis), or they can tear. “While tendon injuries may seem sudden, they’re usually the result of multiple micro-tears over time,” Bart Eastwood, one of our Orthopedic Surgeons, explains. “Repeated motion in jobs, athletics, or other daily activities increases your risk for a tendon injury. Pain, stiffness, and a ‘crunchy’ feeling when the tendon is used are all signs of an injury.” You’ll want to make an appointment so we can determine the exact injury and prescribe the appropriate treatment plan.
Treatments for tendon injuries vary. For example, if an athlete tears their Achilles tendon, we are more likely to recommend surgery because it allows for less time immobilized and on crutches, and a greater return to strength once healed. There are also non-operative treatment plans and therapeutic rehabilitation.
Joints have connective and protective tissue in them, to keep the bone stable and separate in order to prevent harm. Like with tendon injuries, however, consistent wear and tear of the joint can hurt that tissue. Ankle impingement occurs when the soft and bony tissues are compressed within the ankle joint at the extreme end of motion–pointing your toes, for example, and then applying pressure. Dancers, gymnasts, and soccer players are particularly prone to these injuries because they’re not only straining the joint, but then applying weight to the pointed foot.
Like with most orthopedic injuries, pain is a good sign that something is wrong. Dull pain when resting and sharp pain when weight-bearing or stretching at either the front or back of ankle are signs of an impingement. Rest, immobilization, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy are all common treatment options. Impingements can also be fixed surgically through ankle arthroscopy: a minimally-invasive procedure using a fiber-optic viewing camera and small surgical tools to operate in and around the ankle.
The ankle itself doesn’t have its own bone; it’s a joint, so it’s where bones are linked together. The tibia (shinbone), fibula (small bone of the lower leg), and talus (bone between the heel bone and leg bones) connect at the ankle. If any or all of those bones break at the ankle, it’s considered an ankle fracture.
The tricky thing with ankle fractures is that a severe sprain can feel the same as a fracture, and are often caused by the same circumstances: rolling, twisting, or over-rotating the ankle and tripping or falling. If you experience immediate and severe pain, swelling, deformity, or cannot put weight on the foot, please come and see us as soon as you can. We will need to do some imaging in order to determine the injury.
No matter the ankle ailment, Sideline Orthopedics and Sports Medicine is here to help! With our walk-in hours and 3 different locations in the New River Valley, we are always ready to help you, no matter the injury.