Why You Shouldn't Ignore Ankle Pain

Pain is the body’s way of making you stop, assess an injury, protect it, and get help if necessary. But there are many reasons people choose to ignore that defense mechanism and push past the pain. For some it’s pride, for others it’s a sense of duty and responsibility to finish a task, but no matter how you try to justify it, it’s a bad move — especially if it’s ankle pain.

At Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists in Salt Lake City, Utah, our podiatrists, Dr. Daniel Preece and Dr. Darren Groberg, see ankle injuries every day and know the complications that can develop for those who ignore their injuries. Here’s why you should take your injured ankle seriously, even if you think it’s no big deal.

A quick look at ankle injuries

Every year in the United States, about 28,000 people injure their ankles, and almost half of all sports injuries are ankle sprains. 

Although you may experience an ankle strain (overstretching or tearing of the muscles), the most common ankle injury is a sprain — stretching or tearing of the ligaments on either side of your ankle joint. Sprains range in severity from grade 1 (mild stretching) to grade 2 (partial tearing) to grade 3 (completely severed). 

Why not play through the pain?

Athletes are used to playing through a certain degree of discomfort. Bumps, bruises, fatigue, and sore muscles are all part of the game. But an ankle sprain is in a league of its own, and if you ignore it, it’ll have a tendency to make you pay for it down the road. Here’s a list of what may be in store if you don’t treat your ankle injury.

Longer recovery

If you keep using your ankle and don’t give it the rest and care it needs, your pain and inflammation will continue far longer than it would with treatment. This means that everyday tasks like driving (if it’s your right ankle), walking, and working may be hindered for months. And if you’re an athlete, you may be on the sidelines for the rest of the season.

Repeated injuries

After you sprain your ankle once, you’re at a much higher risk of repeating the injury, but there's an even greater chance if you haven’t rehabilitated it properly. If your ligaments and muscles are weak, they’re prone to further injury again and again.

Change of gait

When your ankle is painful or weak, you tend to compensate by placing more pressure on your “good” ankle. This alters the way you walk, which in turn, affects all your joints, including your knees, hips, and spine.

Chronic ankle instability

Repeated sprained ankles lead to chronic ankle instability, meaning the ligaments are so stretched out that they can’t keep you balanced and stable. If this occurs, your ankle will “give way” while you’re playing your sport, walking, or merely standing. 

Osteoarthritis

Ankle sprains may put you at higher risk for developing ankle osteoarthritis. Damaged ligaments cause your cartilage to bear greater force than it should, which wears it down and leads to osteoarthritis. 

How to approach ankle pain

Your sprained ankle is not necessarily an emergency, but it will take some intentional care if you want it to heal completely and continue to support your weight and your sport for years to come. 

The first thing you should do is get an accurate diagnosis. If you have ankle pain, we thoroughly examine your ankle to determine the nature and extent of the damage. Some mild injuries only need rest, ice, compression, and elevation to reduce the inflammation and allow the natural healing process to take place. 

This conservative treatment may seem simplistic, but don’t underestimate the power of each component. They are key factors in enabling your tissues to fully heal. Skip this step, and you’ll likely end up with chronic pain and/or instability.

There’s no one treatment that’s right for every sprain, which is why we take the time to get to know you, how your injury happened, your current and past health, and your activity level. Depending on these variables, we may suggest physical therapy and/or medication to aid you through your rehab.

We also offer MLS® (multiwave locked system) laser therapy to stimulate blood flow and help accelerate the healing process, and in extreme cases, you may need surgery to repair your torn ligament. 

Whether you’re an athlete or not, a sprained ankle can be a harbinger of chronic pain and instability without proper treatment. Avoid unnecessary suffering by contacting us at 801-285-6332 or requesting an appointment online today.

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