If you sprain your ankle, you probably limp around for a bit and soon return to your normal routine. But three new studies conducted at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have found that the effects of a sprained ankle may linger for years, and may possibly affect how you move for the rest of your life.
“The ankle is the base of the body,” said lead researcher Tricia Hubbard-Turner, a professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who participated in all three studies.
“Everything starts with the ankle,” she told the New York Times
Even though ankles are essential for movement, they can be fragile, with injuries occurring with a simple misstep.
Until Hubbard-Turner's studies, sprained ankles got little respect, with both doctors and patients believing sprains heal within a short period of time, regardless of whether a doctor is consulted.
In one study, Hubbard-Turner enrolled 20 college students with chronic ankle instability (CAI), which is caused by sprains, and 20 students with no ankle problems. Both groups wore a pedometer for a week.
Results showed that students with problem ankles walked 2,000 fewer steps a day than those with healthy ankles.
"If this decrease in physical activity level continues for an extended period, CAI may potentially be a substantial health risk if not treated appropriately," she wrote.
An earlier mouse study divided young adult mice into three groups. One group's ankles were mildly sprained by cutting a single ligament, while a second group received the equivalent of a more severe sprain by having two ligaments severed. A third group received fake surgery.
After giving the mice time to heal, they were given access to running wheels and tested for balance.
At the end of a year, the mice given the fake surgery were running much more on their wheels than the mice that had sprains, especially the mice that had severe sprains.
The researchers concluded that about 70 percent of the injured mice had developed CAI after only one ankle injury. The injured mice also slipped more than mice that got fake surgery.
"The results of this study indicate that an acute ankle sprain in mice can result in the development of CAI-like symptoms 12 months after injury," the researchers wrote.
The third study followed the mice involved in the second study until they died from old age.
The mice that had the sprains when they were young ran less and more slowly throughout their lives than mice that had received the fake surgery.
“In these animals, a single sprain had led to far more inactivity” throughout their lives than among the animals with intact ankles, Hubbard-Turner told the Times.
The findings might also apply to humans who sprain their ankles. “Don’t ignore a sprain,” she told the Times
If you hurt your ankle, see your doctor, and if you've had an injury in the past, consult a physical therapist to see if there has been lasting damage, Hubbard-Turner suggests.
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