What's the difference between a high ankle sprain and a regular ankle sprain?

What is a high ankle sprain? How does it differ from a common ankle sprain?

If you’re a sports fan, chances are one of your favorite athletes has been sidelined by what’s called a high ankle sprain. And if you’re a weekend athlete, maybe you’ve experienced your own symptoms.

The period of recovery may be longer for a high ankle sprain than for a common sprain. Why?

The reason lies in the anatomy of the ankle, health experts say, and the different injured ligaments in each type of sprain.

At Signature Medical Group, our orthopedic and sports medicine specialists are trained to treat and diagnose common and high ankle sprains. We offer convenient locations and hours to meet your needs. Online rating surveys have given our specialists 4.1 out of 5 stars. In addition, studies indicate that SMG’s independent physicians outperform others by providing quality care at 20 to 30 percent less cost.

The ankle is composed of three bones in the lower leg: tibia, fibula and talus. These bones act together to form the ankle joint, which typically carries loads up to three times a person’s body weight with normal activity. The soft tissues that surround the ankle allow for its stability and motion. The ligaments help stabilize the ankle.

The common ankle sprain involves injury to a ligament on the outside of the ankle called the “ATFL,” the anterior talofibular ligament. It is one of the primary stabilizers of the ankle and is frequently injured when an athlete “rolls” the ankle.

Athletes frequently will have pain, swelling, and even bruising in more severe sprains. These symptoms can be experienced on the outside of the foot, just below the ankle joint. Still, some athletes are able to return quickly and perform at a high level with the use of braces that support the ankle, preventing the ankle from “re-rolling.”

In a high ankle sprain, a different set of ligaments, called the syndesmosis, is injured. The syndesmosis (SIN-des-MOE-sis) is a set of ligaments above the ankle joint, holding the tibia and fibula together. In normal walking, those two bones are exposed to high forces that act to spread them. The syndesmosis acts as a shock absorber between the tibia and fibula and prevents the bones from spreading farther apart.

When the syndesmosis is sprained, every step can be painful. More frustrating to athletes is that the high ankle sprain does not typically cause a lot of swelling or bruising, making it more difficult to understand the severity of the injury. Braces have not been effective in treating or preventing high ankle sprains.

High ankle sprains occur from sudden twisting. Athletes will typically say the pain radiates up the leg from the ankle, and is worse with cutting motions.

The high ankle sprain is typically treated the same way as the common ankle sprain: rest, ice, compression, and elevation – the RICE protocol. However, since the syndesmosis is subjected to such high forces with each step, the amount of rest needed tends to be longer than for the common ankle sprain – nearly twice as long in most cases.

Regardless of what type of ankle sprain you suffer, make Signature Medical Group your first stop on the road to recovery. Our orthopedic and sports medicine specialists keep up to date with the latest treatment techniques. Call for an appointment today, and we’ll keep you on the go.