You may have sprained an ankle tripping up the stairs. Or hurt it while exercising at the gym. Regardless, the result is the same. It can really disrupt your day.
Typical signs of a sprained ankle are swelling, redness and a ‘hot’ feeling when touched. Otherwise known as inflammation. These symptoms are to be expected. But what may surprise you is they’re all part of the body’s natural defence system. So, what’s happening to your sprain and why does it hurt that much?
Inflammation means your body is protecting you
Inflammation is perfectly normal when you have a sprain. It’s how your body reacts to the injury. When you sprain an ankle the soft tissues in your body are damaged. So these tissues release chemicals that act as an alarm signal to begin the healing process. Consequently, more blood flow is released to the injury which brings nutrients and white blood cells with it. This is actually a good sign. They help the body to repair the damage. It also explains why your sprained ankle may be red and swollen.
Why are sprains so painful?
When you sprain an ankle, your body’s alarm system releases chemicals called prostaglandins from the damaged tissue. The release of these chemicals is important for causing inflammation which protects the area of the injury. However, it also makes nerves sensitive to pain. This pain can be severe which means you may require pain relief while the injury heals.
Managing inflammation while you have it
To properly relieve an injury means you have to try and reduce the inflammation which is the source of pain. For sprained ankles or muscle strains there is a tried and true approach called the RICE method. It simply stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
The body needs time to repair, so try to avoid putting any extra weight on it than necessary. Without rest, you place continual strain on the injury which can lead to further inflammation.
Ice is a great way to reduce inflammation. It constricts the blood vessels which prevents bleeding and swelling. Applying ice to the injury for 20 minutes every few hours can relive pain and reduce inflammation.
Applying a bandage to the area also constricts blood vessels, helps prevent swelling and provides support for the injury.
By keeping the injury raised, swelling can also be reduced. It helps blood and fluid drain away from the injury. This approach works best by raising the limb to slightly above the level of your heart.
Anti-inflammatory medicines help to ease pain
It’s a good idea to always have anti-inflammatory medicines on hand. Ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Nurofen) stops prostaglandins being produced to reduce inflammation and help with pain. After a couple of days most strains and sprains begin to heal. However, if there is no improvement after a few days then see a doctor.
Other pain that’s associated with inflammation
Inflammation isn’t just confined to a sprained ankle. It can also be the cause of pain in toothaches, cold, flu and tension headaches. Inflammation can also be the cause of pain in ongoing injuries and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis which makes joints stiff and painful.
Inflammation is a double-edged sword
Inflammation is both good and bad. While it’s part of the healing process of a sprain or strain it’s also responsible for the pain. By now you should have an understanding of how the inflammation process works. This should help you to relieve the pain associated with it and keep inflammation under control while the injury heals.
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.
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