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Most people will suffer an ankle sprain at some point in their life. The lateral ankle, situated on the outside of the foot, is one of the most frequently injured parts of the body among athletes and physically active people.

Lateral ankle inversion sprains occur when the foot rolls outward, forcing the weight of the entire body to the outer edge of the foot and stretching, spraining or tearing ligaments (tissues that connect bone to bone) in the ankle joint. This type of sprain is common among basketball players and people who participate in sports that require a lot of running, jumping or sudden stopping and starting. Uneven playing fields, like those in baseball or soccer, can also contribute to ankle injuries.

But athletes aren’t the only people susceptible to lateral ankle inversion sprains. Many times, simply stepping off a curb or walking on uneven ground can cause the ankle to slip outward, resulting in a sprain or a tear in the ligaments of the foot. Studies show that weak ligaments, joint instability and old age also contribute to a greater risk of experiencing a lateral ankle sprain. In addition, females are more prone to this type of injury, because they generally have smaller muscles and looser ligaments, especially during pregnancy, which means they have less stability in the leg to maintain the ankle’s position.

It’s not hard to tell when an ankle sprain has occurred. People who experience the injury sometimes hear a pop or a snap. They also usually complain of pain, swelling, bruising and difficulty in walking, and these symptoms can be so severe that patients with the condition sometimes think their foot is broken. An x-ray can determine whether a bone fracture has actually taken place.

Proper care incorporates a variety of safe and effective techniques that can successfully reduce pain, prevent the buildup of scar tissue and restore proper motion to the foot. You should be aware, however, that ligament injuries often take long to heal, and that it could take weeks or months for you to fully recover from an ankle sprain.