"Each year over a million people have new ankle sprains, and these are just the people who came to seek medical help," says Dr. Glenn Shi, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. "There are far more [sprains] that people are treating at home."
The ankle is quite a well-engineered joint, actually. But, because it's a balancing act to carry the full weight of the body on three bones atop the foot, Dr. Shi says, "An injury can happen anytime an athlete gets on the field or to anyone just walking down the street. In fact, ankle sprains among high school athletes are the most common injury that they see."
Still, there are ways to reduce the risk, particularly if you understand how the ankle is put together.
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"The ankle bone really consists of the tibia, the fibula, as well as the talus. And the talus connects to the rest of the foot. They are also connected by these ropes, which are also known as ligaments, that connect the bones together," Dr. Shi explains. "That gives us stability as well as motion, if necessary, for walking."
Twist inward, or roll your foot under, and the ligaments can be stretched or torn: a classic ankle sprain. Most sprains will heal on their own.
"However, when you have a major sprain, instability can be a problem down the road, and that can often lead to cartilage injury, as well as arthritis and pain," Dr. Shi cautions. The foot and ankle surgeon says if pain persists more than a few days, see a doctor.
His top tips for preventing ankle sprains are:
"Stretching often conditions us and prepares us for a foot event, such as running, jogging, changing directions," says Dr. Shi. "We really need to keep ourselves limber, if you will."
For first aid at home, rest a sprained ankle for a couple of days. Apply ice four to eight times a day until the swelling improves. Compressing the ankle with an elastic wrap can help control swelling, as will elevating the injured joint higher than your heart.