The Complete Guide to High Ankle Sprains: Recovery, Treatment, and What to Expect

The Complete Guide to High Ankle Sprains: Recovery, Treatment, and What to Expect

The Complete Guide to High Ankle Sprains: Recovery, Treatment, and What to Expect


In the world of sports injuries, few things strike fear into the hearts of athletes quite like the high ankle sprain. Characterized by the widening of the tibiofibular ligament that connects the two major bones of the lower leg, this type of injury leads to severe discomfort, swelling, and mobility restrictions. Here we break down everything you need to know about high ankle sprains – from understanding the injury to effective recovery strategies.


Understanding the High Ankle Sprain

A high ankle sprain, also known as a syndesmosis injury, occurs when the ligaments above the ankle joint are overextended. Unlike the more common lateral ankle sprains, which involve the ligaments on the outside of the joint, a high ankle sprain affects the ligaments that hold the tibia and fibula together.

This injury typically happens when the foot is planted and the leg experiences a rotational force. Sports that involve sudden changes in direction or high-impact landings, such as basketball, soccer, and skiing, are common culprits.

Recognizing the Symptoms

If you've sustained a high ankle sprain, you'll likely experience:

  • Pain: Often a sharp and immediate pain felt above the ankle, which may worsen with walking or bearing weight.
  • Swelling: The area around the ankle will become inflamed as your body responds to the injury.
  • Difficulty Walking: The instability in your ankle, along with pain and swelling, can make walking painful and difficult.

It's crucial to distinguish these symptoms from those of a more common ankle sprain. While both can be painful, high ankle sprains tend to be more severe and often involve higher areas in the ankle.

Diagnosing Your Injury

If you suspect a high ankle sprain, seeking a professional evaluation is essential. The key to a correct diagnosis lies in the hands of medical experts who will often perform:

  • Clinical Examination: This may involve moving the ankle to assess the extent of pain and functionality.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans are commonly used to confirm a high ankle sprain by visualizing the ligaments.

Treatment Options for High Ankle Sprains

Once diagnosed, the treatment path for a high ankle sprain will be dependent on the severity of the injury. Generally, it's categorized into three levels: mild, moderate, and severe.

Mild Sprains

For mild sprains, the R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol is often effective at reducing swelling and pain. A healthcare provider may also recommend:

  • Immobilization: Using a brace or boot to prevent further damage and promote healing.
  • Physical Therapy: To restore ankle strength and range of motion as it heals.

Moderate Sprains

Moderate sprains may require a longer recovery period, and more intense therapeutic interventions:

  • Immobilization with Crutches: To avoid weight-bearing on the affected ankle initially.
  • More Aggressive Physical Therapy: Includes balance exercises and gradual strengthening.
  • Possibly a Shorter Period of Non-Weight Bearing: As part of a phased return to normal activities.

Severe Sprains

In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair the damaged syndesmosis. The surgical approach typically involves:

  • Repositioning of Bones: Ensuring the tibia and fibula are properly aligned and balanced.
  • Placement of Hardware: To secure the bones and allow the ligaments to heal properly.
  • Post-Surgery Rehabilitation: This is critical for regaining normal ankle function and preventing long-term complications.

Recovery Period and Expectations

The recovery time for high ankle sprains can vary greatly depending on the individual and the level of the sprain. In general:

  • Mild Sprains: Can take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months for complete recovery.
  • Moderate Sprains: Range from several weeks to six months for full healing.
  • Severe Sprains: Requiring surgery can extend the recovery process to six months or more.

During the recovery period, it's important to adhere to the treatment plan set forth by your medical team. This will often include:

  • Gradual Return to Activity: Moving from non-weight bearing to light activity under the guidance of a therapist.
  • Adequate Healing Time: Before returning to high-impact sports, ensure your ankle has fully healed.
  • Staying Active: Engaging in low-impact exercises can help maintain cardiovascular fitness and prevent muscle atrophy.

Preventing Future High Ankle Sprains

While no prevention strategy guarantees immunity from injury, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of future high ankle sprains:

  • Ankle Strengthening Exercises: Regularly work on your ankle stability and strength.
  • Proper Footwear: Use high-quality shoes that are appropriate for your sport and replace them regularly.
  • Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest and recovery time between training sessions are crucial for injury prevention.
  • Technique Training: Work with a coach to improve your techniques and minimize the risk of improper landings or pivots.

Seeking Professional Assistance

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of dealing with a high ankle sprain, professional assistance is only a call or click away. For those in the Orange City, FL area, Central Florida Bone & Joint Institute offers expertise in orthopedic care and rehabilitation.

With the right resources at your disposal, you can take the first steps toward a complete recovery. Remember, it's not just about addressing the injury; it's about coming back stronger and smarter, ready to take on the world – or the sports field – once again.

Contact Central Florida Bone & Joint Institute today to find out how their orthopedic surgeons in Orange City, FL can help you regain your stride.