Ligament injuries like a sprained, strained or torn ligament in the ankle joint are among the most common sporting injuries. They are usually caused when a person missteps, accidentally rolling or twisting their ankle. In general, ankle ligament injuries are treated conservatively. Surgical treatment is recommended if a bone is injured at the same time, or if the person is a professional athlete.
The ankle joint connects the lower leg to the foot. It consists of two parts: the upper and lower ankle joints. Ligaments inside and outside the joint help to stabilise it. The outer ligaments (known as the lateral ligaments) are the most prone to injury. Injuries are usually caused by rolling or twisting the ankle while running or jumping. Depending on the amount of force exerted on the joint, a twisted ankle can result in strains, sprains or tears in the ankle ligaments. In the case of severe twisting, or if the twist is combined with some form of impact, then the bones may also be injured.
Typical symptoms of an injured ankle ligament are immediate, strong pain when the injury occurs, as well as swelling around the ankle and pain when moving or putting weight on the affected foot. If the ligaments are torn or bones have been damaged, there is usually bruising below the ankle bone.
A sprained ankle is diagnosed on the basis of the event that caused the injury and the typical symptoms. If there is severe swelling, pain or bruising, an x-ray examination is carried out to check for broken bones.
The sprained ankle can be treated on an outpatient basis. The treatment of an ankle ligament injury depends on the severity of the injury. Straightforward strains and sprains are healed by immobilising and resting the ankle – no additional medical treatment is required. Elevating the foot and cooling the affected area with ice can also help to reduce the pain and swelling. If ligaments have been torn, the ankle must be supported using a pneumatic brace (Aircast brace) for a longer period of time.
Professional athletes sometimes prefer to have surgery to speed up the recovery process. If a ligament injury is accompanied by a bone injury, then surgical treatment is usually recommended. Find out more about the surgical treatment options in the ankle surgery section.