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The Different Types of Ankle Sprains: From Mild To Severe

Ankle sprains are extremely common injuries in athletes, with an estimated 10,000 ankle sprains occurring daily in the United States alone. An ankle sprain happens when one or more of the ligaments of the ankle joint become stretched beyond their normal limits. Some sprains only cause mild pain that goes away quickly, but more serious ones can cause long-term problems like chronic instability.

Athletes can get different kinds of ankle sprains, ranging from mild to severe. To treat and manage your injury, it's important to understand the different levels of ankle sprains that happen and what type you might have. Here's a look at the different types of ankle sprains!

Understanding The Anatomy Of The Ankle

Before diving into the types of ankle sprains, it's important to have an understanding of the anatomy of the ankle. The ankle comprises three major bones: the tibia (shin bone), fibula (smaller bone on the outer side of your leg), and talus. The talus is the first bone of the foot sitting on top of the heel bone and is the third bone along with the leg bones making the ankle joint. There are two sets of ankle ligaments. The inside or medial ligaments called the Deltoid ligaments and the outside or lateral ankle ligaments. Both sets of ligaments can get stretched or torn during ankle injuries depending on what direction the ankle twists and the amount of force occurring during that injury.t. Here is the basic anatomy of the ankle:

Ligaments Of The Ankle

The most common ankle sprains result in injury to the lateral or outside ligaments These are comprised of the: the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL), the posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL). This connects the small leg bone to the foot. The deltoid ligaments are on the inside of the ankle joint and are comprised of 4 ligaments connecting the tibia or main leg bone to the foot. The ligaments connecting the two leg bones together are the anterior and posterior tibiofibular ligaments and are only involved in more severe injuries. connect these ligaments that hold the leg bones, The ATFL is on the outer side of the front of your ankle. It keeps your ankle from rolling in too far. The CFL is located on the back of your ankle and helps to stabilize the joint when you walk or run. These are the two most involved ligaments and the first to stretch or tear with inversion ankle twists.

Functions Of The Ankle Joint

The ankle joint is a very complex structure, and its functions are multifactorial. It helps provide stability when walking, running, jumping, and making sudden turns. It also absorbs shock during high-impact activities like running or jumping. The ankle joint has two main ranges of motion: plantar flexion (pointing your toes down) and dorsiflexion (pointing your toes up).

What Commonly Causes Ankle Sprains?

Ankle sprains are common injuries when the ankle's ligaments are stretched or torn. There are several common causes of ankle sprains, including:

High-impact Activities

High-impact activities such as running, jumping, or sports can cause a strain and complete tear on the ankle ligaments. Rapid changes in direction, landing incorrectly from a jump, or an awkward twist of the foot are all common causes of an ankle sprain.


Sprains are also more likely to occur if you wear shoes that don't give your ankles enough support. If your shoes don't have enough arch support or cushioning, your ankle may roll over more easily. This can lead to an ankle injury.

Uneven Surfaces

Walking on uneven ground or surfaces can also make you more likely to sprain your ankle. A sprain can occur if your ankle rolls over on an uneven surface like rocks, roots, or other obstacles.

Slipping or Tripping

Slipping or tripping can also cause a severe sprain by putting sudden stress on the ankle ligaments. If you're walking on slippery surfaces or if there are multiple obstacles in your path, you're more likely to trip, leading to an ankle sprain.

Weak Ankle Muscles

Weak muscles around the ankle joint can make it more susceptible to sprains. This is especially true if the muscles become overly tight, as this can make it harder for them to provide stability for your ankle.

Torn Or Stretched Tendons

Ankle sprains can also happen when the tendons, which connect muscles to bones, get torn or injured. This type of sprain is often due to overuse or repetitive strain and can cause significant discomfort. To let the tendon heal properly, you must rest and avoid sports or other activities that could make the injury worse.

What Are The Common Types Of Ankle Sprains?

. There are several types of ankle sprains and the treatment for each type can vary. As such, it is important to understand the different types of ankle sprains, their symptoms, and their treatments. There are three common types of ankle sprains:

Inversion Ankle Sprains

Inversion ankle sprains occur when the ankle rolls inward. The ligament on the outside of the foot (ATFL) is usually damaged in this type of ankle sprain based above, and it can range from mild to severe depending on how much the ligament is stretched or torn. This type of sprain is most often caused by activities that involve sudden changes in direction or landing from a jump, such as basketball, soccer, or volleyball.


Symptoms of an inversion ankle sprain may include:

  • Pain on the outside of the ankle

  • Swelling and bruising

  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot

  • Stiffness and limited range of motion

  • Instability, or the feeling that the ankle will give way


Most of the time, the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is used to treat an inversion ankle sprain. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also help manage pain and swelling. In more severe cases, a brace or cast may be necessary to immobilize injured ligament in the ankle and promote healing. Physical therapy may also be recommended to help restore the ankle's range of motion, strength, and stability. Surgery is rarely necessary for an inversion ankle sprain, but it may be recommended if the ligament is completely torn or if the ankle does not respond to conservative treatment.

Eversion Ankle Sprains

Eversion ankle sprains are less common than inversion ankle sprains. They happen when the foot rolls outward, stretching or tearing the ligaments inside the ankle. This type of sprain is often caused by trauma to the ankle, such as a fall, and can also occur during activities that require sudden changes in direction.


Symptoms of an eversion ankle sprain may include:

  • Mild to moderate pain on the inner side of the ankle

  • Some swelling and bruising

  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot

  • Limited range of motion and stiffness

  • A feeling of instability or weakness in the ankle


An eversion ankle sprain is treated the same way as an inversion ankle sprain. The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) may be used to keep the injured ankle part from moving. Physical therapy may also be suggested to help restore the ankle's strength, stability, and range of motion.

An eversion ankle sprain doesn't usually need surgery, but it might if the ligament is completely torn or if the severe ankle sprain doesn't get better with other treatments. If you think you have a sprained ankle, you should see a doctor right away. Getting treatment can help prevent long-term problems and pain.

High Ankle Sprains

High ankle sprains, also known as syndesmotic ankle sprains, occur when the tibia and fibula bones in the lower leg's ligaments are strained or torn. This type of ankle sprain is less common than inversion or eversion ankle sprains. It is usually caused by a twisting injury or a blow to the lower leg.


Symptoms of a high ankle sprain may include:

  • Pain in the lower leg, particularly above the ankle joint

  • Swelling and bruising

  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot

  • Stiffness and limited range of motion

  • Instability, or the feeling that the ankle will give way


High ankle sprains are often more severe than other types of ankle sprains and can take longer to heal. As part of the treatment, a cast or brace may be used to keep the joint from moving. Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used to control pain and swelling. When the ligaments are completely torn or when conservative treatment doesn't help, surgery may be needed to fix the more severe ankle sprains.

Rehabilitation and physical therapy are important parts of getting better after a high ankle sprain. They can help the ankle joint get back to its normal strength, stability, and range of motion.

How Are Ankle Sprains Diagnosed?

Diagnosing an ankle sprain typically involves a physical examination and evaluation of symptoms. Your healthcare provider will ask about the circumstances that led to the injury, the severity of your ankle pain, and any other symptoms you may be experiencing. They may also perform a physical examination of the ankle, checking for tenderness, swelling, and range of motion.

Imaging tests like digital X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other injuries like dislocations or MRIs. Digital X-rays often rule out a fracture, while MRI and CT scans can provide more detailed information about soft tissue damage, such as ligament tears.

In some cases, your doctor may use a grading system to describe how bad your ankle sprain is. This can help figure out the right treatment plan and estimate recovery time with advanced care.

What Should You Do To Prevent Future Ankle Sprains?

To keep from getting those ankle fractures or sprains again, it's important to support and strengthen the ankle joint. Here are some tips for preventing ankle sprains:

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening the muscles in and around the ankle joint can help support the ligaments and improve stability. Your doctor or physical therapist may suggest exercises that are made for people with sprained ankles.

Proper Footwear

Wearing properly sized shoes with good arch support can help protect the ankle from twisting and turning. Make sure to replace your shoes regularly and avoid walking barefoot or in high heels, which can increase the risk of an ankle sprain.

Warm-Up And Stretching

Always do a warm-up before physical activities and take time to stretch the ankles and feet. Doing this will help improve the range of motion and reduce stiffness, which can help protect against ankle sprains. It's important to stop and stretch if the ankles start feeling tight or sore during physical activity.

Avoid Uneven Surfaces

Walking or running on uneven surfaces, like loose gravel or bumpy trails, makes it more likely that your ankle will get sprained. Uneven surfaces can make it difficult to keep balance, leading to a twisted foot or ankle joint and causing a sprain. Moreover, because of the undulating terrain, there is a risk of stepping into a hole or other obstacles that can cause an ankle sprain.

Bracing Or Taping

Using an ankle brace or taping the ankle can help reduce the risk of an ankle sprain. A brace or tape gives the foot extra support and keeps it from turning or twisting. People with multiple chronic ankle sprains also may benefit from wearing an ankle brace during physical activities


When Should You Seek Medical Attention For Your Ankle?

If your ankle is deformed, hurts a lot, or you can't walk at all, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. If you put off treatment for a high ankle sprain, you may end up with more long-term pain and problems. Doctors might suggest simple treatments like rest, ice, and elevation, as well as physical therapy and bracing.

If you feel you have an ankle sprain but your injury is not improving after a few days of rest and ice, seek medical attention to prevent ankle sprains. A qualified medical professional, like those at Northern Foot and Ankle, can help you figure out how bad your pain is and what other symptoms you might be having. With proper ankle sprain care, they can develop an effective treatment plan tailored to your needs and help you get back on the path toward recovery.

Schedule An Appointment Today!

If you have hurt your ankle recently or in the past, you should make an appointment with Northern Foot and Ankle! Our team of experienced professionals can provide a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for your ankle sprain. Through a combination of conservative treatments, we will work to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and strengthen the ankles for improved stability. Call us to schedule an appointment today and start the path toward recovery!

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