The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Ankle Injury Treatment: Is It a Sprain, Strain, or Tear?

Posted by on Monday, October 29th, 2018


Injury can quickly derail your plans to stay active and healthy. For many of us, working out and training is tied to our mental health and overall feeling of well-being. “Hard” bone injuries leave us no choice but to stop what we’re doing and seek emergency care. By contrast, soft tissue injuries can sneak up on us and give us mixed signals on when it’s safe to return to sport. The experts at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine offer ankle injury treatment and tips for knowing whether you have a sprain, strain, or tear, and what you can do to get yourself back into shape.

ankle injury treatment
Is your injury a sprain, strain, or tear? NYC podiatrists discuss foot and ankle injury treatment. [Image:]

A Sprain Is a Ligament Injury

Ligament injuries occur when the joint is forced into an unnatural position, causing a tearing of the fibrous connective tissues that link and stabilize the bones. Sometimes the ligament overstretches and swells in response to the primary injury. The ankle can become sprained from stepping off a curb the wrong way, twisting, or landing on uneven ground. The wrist and knee are other common sites for sprains.

Symptoms of a sprain include:

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Hampered movement
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Stiffness

Sprains of a ligament can be painful but the ligament should still be able to function. Mild sprains typically heal in about seven to 10 days. A more severe sprain, in the ankle, for example, can make it difficult to walk for several weeks. You may need a walking boot to get around and should be seen by a health care provider.

A Strain Is a Muscle or Tendon Injury

Strains refer to the overstretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons that connect muscles to bones. Many of these injuries occur gradually over time from repetitive movements that over-stress the system.

Symptoms of strains include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness
  • Cramps
  • Immobility
  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling

As with anything, strains can vary in severity. In most cases, it will take a few weeks for a strain to heal. Avoiding the activity that contributed to the stress on your system is particularly key.

What Happens When Ligaments, Muscles, or Tendons Tear?

With age and activity, soft tissues like ligaments, muscles, and tendons are prone to overstretching, weakening, and eventually tearing. Swelling is the body’s reaction to minor injury. Fluid and white blood cells congregate in the injured tissues, causing inflammation. While the excess fluid protects the structures from greater injury, it can also compress the nerves, trigger pain, and affect mobility.

Symptoms of a tear include:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Inability to bear weight or move normally

Common sites for tear involving the foot include the Achilles tendon above the heel and the posterior tibial tendon that stretches up the inner ankle. Tears often heal on their own, but it could take months. Some tears, like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, require surgical repair.

Treating Soft Tissue Injuries

The best way to treat a minor soft tissue injury is by using the RICE method:

  • Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injury, using crutches or a walking boot if necessary.
  • Ice: Apply ice, not heat, for 10-20 minutes every hour for the first 72 hours.
  • Compression: Wear an elastic compression wrap for 24 to 36 hours to limit swelling.
  • Elevation: Rest the injured limb above heart level for two to three hours per day to reduce swelling.

During the healing process, the blood arranges collagen layers over the injury, developing an internal scab. As the muscle fibers heal, collagen breaks down, restoring movement. Ligaments and tendons that do not have as much blood flow take longer to heal.

Ankle Injury Treatment in NYC

Discomfort is to be expected during the healing process, but sharp pains are not normal. As days progress after your injury, you should feel better, not worse. A podiatrist or sports medicine doctor can help see you through a faster recovery. At our offices in White Plains and Manhattan, we provide you with state-of-the-art foot and ankle injury treatment with tools like platelet-rich plasma and stem cell injections, as well as laser technology and grafting. Contact us today!


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.