As a chiropractor, ankle sprains are one of the most common complaints that my patients have. Often these are due to sports injuries, but I have seen many that were due to walking on uneven surfaces or just missing a curb. Immediately after the sprain, there is usually swelling and pain that can affect your daily activities. After 4-6 weeks, the soft tissues will have mostly healed, but I have seen many cases that have lasted for months or even years where the original ankle sprain has led to problems in the pelvis or lower back due to compensation. Most people don’t realize that even minor ankle sprains can lead to long-term consequences.
First of all, the ligaments that are damaged during the sprain lose their elasticity and functionality due to build up of scar tissue. This is why after jogging or long walks especially on uneven ground you may notice increased ankle pain or stiffness. The ankle ligaments also become overstretched from the sprain when the ankle is suddenly turned past its normal range of motion. Once these ligaments are overstretched they will not return to their original shape and this results in decreased stability in the joint. Both of these problems lead to increased chances that you will sprain your ankle again. These issues also change the way the ankle moves and may lead to problems in the parts of the body above this joint including the knees and the spine.
The sprained ligaments also lose the ability to effectively communicate with the brain leading to decreased coordination of the ankle. This leads to poor balance, and again, you are more likely to twist your ankle repeatedly. This makes walking on uneven surfaces or playing sports more dangerous because our brain is having trouble telling our body how to make small adjustments to avoid injury. Decreased coordination also changes the way you walk leading to torsion or strain in the lower back.
If an ankle sprain is not properly treated it may lead to chronic stiffness. This means that the ankle may have trouble moving in certain directions such as the toes moving upwards and turning the foot outwards. This loss of ankle motion will cause changes in how the body moves during walking. Since the heel is not contacting the ground properly, the muscles of the pelvis and leg regions will not work efficiently and lose strength, leading to an alteration of normal gait that in turn can lead to problems such as lower back pain.
Even minor ankle sprains can have a big effect on your body. With proper treatment, improvements can be made quickly even with chronic cases. If you have an old ankle sprain then you may need chiropractic therapy to help you achieve full range of motion and complete your rehabilitation. An examination of the structures that have been affected since that time may be necessary including the hips and lower back. Some chiropractors will perform special techniques on the ankle to help promote healing and increase the ankle’s range of motion. Chiropractic treatment can help to prevent chronic and recurrent problems. If you have ankle, knee, hip, or back pain, your chiropractor will perform a careful case history and examination to determine the actual cause of the problem and remedy it accordingly.