Ankle Sprains: What's the Difference?

By Glenn G. Gabisan, MD, FACS


In collegiate and professional sports, we hear more and more about athletes sustaining high ankle sprains. What exactly does that mean and how does it differ from an ordinary lateral ankle sprain?

A high ankle sprain involves tearing the ligaments connecting the two long bones in the lower leg, namely the tibia and fibula. These ligaments are called the syndesmotic ligaments. A high ankle sprain commonly occurs when the foot is planted and twisted outward. Swelling and pain develop at the front and outer side of the ankle. It is painful to stand on the affected leg. The pain and swelling in a high ankle sprain occur higher up on the leg than the more common lateral ankle sprain.

High ankle sprains take a longer time to heal than lateral ankle sprains. X-rays are obtained to look for fractures or widening of the space between the two bones. In the case of a severe high ankle sprain, sometimes surgery is required to repair the torn syndesmotic ligaments. Usually, the ligaments will heal in a boot or cast. Most athletes can return to sports in six to eight weeks.