What is the Ankle Ligament?
The ankle is bound by tendons and ligaments, and attaches to the foot by these ligaments on either side of the ankle. On the inside of the ankle is a complicated web of ligaments that are stronger than the one on the outside of the ankle, where there are only two ligaments. This is in order to limit the movement of the ankle itself. The bones of the foot are attached, via the ankle to the muscles in the leg by these tendons. The ankle mainly moves in a single plane or direction: up and down, and normally does not tilt or move front to back. Injuring these ligaments can tear or stretch them, causing a sprain and reducing their strength. If the injury is severe enough, cartilage around the ankle can be damaged or the rotation of the ankle can also cause the bones to break or fracture, causing severe pain and restriction of function. This usually requires a surgical procedure.
Causes of Ankle Ligament Tears
An ankle sprain can sometimes occur during walking, running or falling from heights, the most common of which is the inversion sprain. A wrong step can cause the ankle and outside of the foot to roll over towards the ground, causing the ligaments on the outside of the ankle to pull very hard, damaging or tearing them. Several types of damage can occur, including stretching, tearing either partially or fully, dislodging the ligament's connection to the bone and also perhaps pulling a piece of bone along with it. Any number of the ligaments can potentially be damaged, depending on the amount of rotation of the foot and how severe the injury is. Multiple sprains during a short period can lead to the ligaments becoming weaker, thus causing the ankle to become unsteady.
Symptoms of Ankle Ligament Tears
Swelling, bruising, discolouration and naturally pain are all symptoms of ankle sprains and ligament damage. Usage of the sprained ankle can be severely limited, depending on the extent of the damage, and the ankle may also feel like it is locking or clicking when moved. Pain is usually felt around the bone on the exterior of the ankle, as well as the tendons, ligaments and lateral aspects of the ankle.
A doctor will run certain tests, such as gentle movement of the joint to determine the severity of the damage, muscle testing, x-rays of the joint and even stress x-rays to determine how much the ankle has dislocated. Rarely, an MRI scan may be necessary for a complete picture of the extent of the damage.
Treatment of the Injury
Rest is the most important factor in recuperation. Ice and anti-inflammatory medicines can also be applied to the affected area to relieve pain and swelling. The ankle may require a cast or boot to set the joint correctly to allow for proper healing, which may take several months. Surgery may also be necessary to correct ligament positions or fix breakages of tendons or bones.
Ankle instability will remain for quite a while even after the ankle ligaments have fully healed. Strenuous activity using the ankle must be avoided for some time after the recovery in order to not unduly stress the ligaments as they return to full strength.