Of all the joints in the body, none is as complex as the ankle. Its intricate structure of bones, tendons, and ligaments is under the control of an equally complex group of muscles. The variety of movements performed by the ankle subject it to forces of a magnitude far out of proportion to its size. It is little wonder that ankle injuries are the most common of all joint injuries.
When the ligaments that stabilize the ankle are overstretched or torn, the result is a sprained ankle, one of the most common exercise-related injuries. Although the risk is greatest during workouts that involve explosive side-by-side motion, such as in tennis or basketball, you can sprain an ankle during any weight-bearing activity, including walking.
Even sedentary people are vulnerable, since inactivity causes the muscles that support the ankle and protect the ligaments to lose strength and elasticity.
Inversion sprains are by far the most common type. The foot abruptly turns inward, putting tremendous stress on the ligaments on the opposite side of the ankle.
Eversion sprains, with stretching of the inside ligaments when the foot turns outward, are much less common.
Mild sprains, in which the ligaments are stretched only slightly beyond their normal limits, usually require minimal attention - if the pain and swelling are so mild as to permit normal weight bearing.
More severe sprains are quickly evident, with marked swelling, sharp pain, and evidence of bleeding under the skin. The worse sprain is one producing a complete tear of the ligament, putting the joint completely out of commission.
Sometimes what appears to be an ankle sprain is really a fractured bone. This can be of either the end of one of the long bones of the lower leg, the fibula, or a fracture of one of the bones of the foot. Thus, care must be taken with an injured ankle to make sure exactly what is injured.
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