What are the signs and symptoms of ankle sprains?

The four symptoms common to all ankle sprains are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Joint instability
Despite the varying severity of the symptoms, the strength of the joint may remain unaffected.

Pain is the most immediate symptom associated with ankle sprains. The pain has been described as "sharp" and "well-localized" to the affected area. Pain is usually worse with more severe injuries. This is often not the case in severe sprains with complete tears. With time the pain may become more generalized around the ankle. A feeling of burning and numbness from nerves that were stretched when the ankle was twisted may also accompany the sprain.

Some degree of swelling will occur with any ankle sprain. In general, the greater the damage to the ligament, the greater the swelling. Swelling is the body's attempt to immobilize the joint. Other factors that can contribute to swelling are the tearing of a vein or failure to elevate the ankle following the injury. The swelling will vary depending on the response to raising the ankle in an elevated position. For these reasons, swelling cannot be used as an indication of the severity of the ankle sprain, as it will worsen if the extremity is not elevated for 24-48 hours after the injury.

A black and blue discoloration over the injured area of the ankle usually occurs. This is caused by bleeding under the skin into the tissue. The degree of bruising is not a reliable indication of the severity of the sprain.

Joint Instability
When the ankle is severely sprained, there is commonly a feeling of "wobbling" or "looseness." Feeling a "pop" or "snap" in the ankle is a signal to stop activity and limit movement, as this may indicate a significant ligament injury.

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