How does a sprained ankle heal?

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Ankle sprains hurt and unfortunately, are all too common. Most of us have experienced the pain, swelling and inconvenience of dealing with a sprained ankle. Although they may seem like they take forever to heal, most ankle sprains heal nicely with a little rest and time.

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Ligament Tears

Before understanding how a sprained ankle heals, you must first know how the injury affects the body. An ankle sprain occurs when one of the ligaments supporting the ankle is overstretched or tears. This usually happens when the ankle is unexpectedly rolled or turned to one side, like during sports play or by tripping over a bumpy surface while walking. As a result of the tear, the ligament can no longer adequately perform its job of stabilising the ankle joint, leading to abnormal joint motion and further injury. The ligament damage leads to a substantial localised inflammatory response, including pain, swelling, redness and heat.

Healing Process

Ankle sprains vary in severity, but they all heal in the same manner. Time and rest are a crucial element in healing the ankle ligaments. This can be achieved by using a brace, a walking cast or sometimes even crutches. Care must be taken not to overuse the ankle during the initial healing phase, since in its weakened state, a re-injury is common. Since ligaments do not have large blood supplies, they tend to be slow to heal, and usually take over 6 weeks. Controlling the swelling is also important to help heal sprains. Elevating sprained ankles when sitting, icing and using compression by wrapping ankles can all assist with reducing swelling. Once swelling is under control, exercises need to be performed to help the ankle regain its original motion and stability. Exercises usually start with range of motion, and then progress to strengthening and balancing activities. Particularly severe ligament tears that don't respond well to conservative treatment measures may require surgical repair.

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