Daybook · On Herself

My Ankle Sprain Chronicles

This blog usually chronicles my travels, and indeed my life and lifestyle are based on near-constant motion. Well, for the past eight days, my life has involved very little movement at all, and the world has became much smaller: it’s the size of my apartment. In fact, to be more accurate, it’s the size of my couch.

That’s because last week, I finally decided to address my chronic ankle sprains, and underwent ankle ligament reconstructive surgery.

I don’t remember the first time I sprained my ankle, although I do know that it was sometime in high school. I do have vivid memories of many of my ankle sprains that have happened ever since, though, because several have involved dramatic tumbles.

There was the time I stepped off the curb to hail a taxi in New York, and onto an uneven piece of asphalt  —  and went down inches in front of the oncoming bumper.  The time when I sprained my ankle on a rock near a humongous snake in Mozambique, and had to take a 24 hour flight home the next day with a grapefruit-sized ankle. The time I did a belly flop on Piccadilly Circus on I’m not even sure what, in the process turning my umbrella into a missile hurled at startled Londoners. (I kept strong and carried on, with the help of ibuprofen plus codeine hastily acquired over-the-counter at Boots.)

And finally, my last-straw sprain, just after last year’s Indianapolis 500. I wast walking down a well-paved street, in sneakers, when it happened. There’s no great story attached to this sprain, other than the fact that I was carrying my BlackBerry in my hand, and when I fell it got sidewalk skidmarks on it that made it look like it was clawed by a bear.  I knew it was a bad one the moment I went down.

We’ve got three ligaments in our ankles, two on the side, one in the back, and when I stepped on a seam in the pavement, my ankle first twisted out to one side and then the other as I tried to regain my balance. So I actually stretched and tore both ligaments. I put ice on it, took ibuprofen, kept it elevated and the swelling went down in a few weeks. But no sooner had a I recovered from that sprain — well, let’s be honest, I never really gave it time to fully heal before I went back to traveling and the gym — I re-sprained it walking out the door of my building.

My podiatrist explained that the outside ligament is the one most people stretch or tear when they sprain their ankle, and if you do that enough times, you’ll create enough instability that you’ll start to sprain the inside ligament. It’s harder to sprain the back ligament, but if you totally screw up your two side ligaments, you’ll eventually get to that one too.

A healthy ligament looks like a rubber band, after my MRI I learned that my two side ligaments looked like lace, from all the tears and the scar tissue, although my back ligament was still healthy. (This turned out to be a very good thing, since that back ligament is apparently harder to fix surgically.)

If I did nothing to stop the chronic spraining, over time, my ankles would be vulnerable to arthritis, plus, I’d be vulnerable to sudden death from unexpectedly falling down onto and in front of God-knows-what every few months. Not to mention, they had started to ache with just the slightest bit of exertion. (They? Oh did I fail to mention, it’s not just one ankle that I sprain, but both? I’ve tended to alternate.)

So on Tuesday afternoon I had my first surgical procedure, on my right ankle, which was one I’d sprained in Indy and then re-sprained.  My doctor cleaned up the scar tissue inside each ligament and fixed the tears, and then he bound my ligaments to the muscle sheath to give them extra strength. When I was in recovery, he said the most beautiful words I’d ever heard. He said: “I’d be surprised if you ever turned your ankle again.”

So now I’ve just got to concentrate on not spraining my left ankle, until I recover enough to go under the knife again!

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8 thoughts on “My Ankle Sprain Chronicles

  1. Hi Alison — I have very similar issues with my ankle! I saw your ankle brace tweet this morning and thought I would look at your blog to see if their was more info on your ankle problem. I have had more than a few sprains and now I believe my ligament is stretched. That is the conclusion that the surgeon as the Hospital of Special Surgery came to after examining me a couple of years ago. Yes — I haven’t had surgery yet — I have been hoping that this will get better — but it continues to bother me. I have been considering prolotherapy.
    Who is your surgeon? Did you get a good result? How are you doing now? Did you have to go through physical therapy after your surgery? Any pain after surgery?
    Feel free to email me at Jsananda at AOL.com

    Hope you are feeling fine. Jill

  2. Hi Jill,
    I’m now slightly under a month post-surgery, and I’m doing pretty well. The first two weeks were hard, but I was cleared to go back to the gym (just doing exercise bike every other day) two weeks ago, and I’ve been getting more and more mobility back. I can tell you that my right ankles feels much stronger than it ever has, and even though it’s still weak, it’s already stronger than my yet-to-be-operated on left ankle. (I’m having that one done next month.)

    So as far as physical therapy goes, many people do have it as I understand it, but my doctor feels I don’t need it as I’ve been very diligent about doing exercise.

    I know that surgery is a difficult thing to contemplate, and I definitely underestimated how hard it would be on me physically –just in terms of being exhausted from it — it’s definitely a big deal! I am by all indications recovering quickly and I had a solid three weeks of restrained activity. But for me, I’m just no longer willing to have ankles that I can’t trust.

    And I’m gonna DM you the doc’s name, I don’t know why but it feels weird to put that out there publicly. 🙂

    Hope that helps! Best of luck.

  3. Hi Alison

    Thanks for the information. Yes – if you can email the Doctor’s name I would appreciate it.
    Many football players who injure their ligaments get Prolotherapy and it helps them — so I am leaning toward getting the prolotherapy before I decide to go under the knife.
    Did you have any numbness in your feet before or after the surgery?
    But thanks for the info on your ankles!

    BTW – I have the same ankle brace in my closet – but I couldn’t get used to wearing it!
    Jill

  4. Hmmm, I never considered prolotherapy. (I hadn’t even heard of it actually!) I was at a point, though, where continued sprains were likely to lead to an ankle break at worst, or at the best arthritis down the road, and I wanted neither of those things to happen! But no, there’s been no numbness, either pre- or post-surgery. The top of my foot is a little tingly now, but that’s from all the bandages pressing on the nerve that runs atop the foot, and it will go away. 😉

  5. There are many things to consider when choosing an ankle brace. For example, most manufactures of ankle braces claim to offer better support or protection than the other product. Are they really all that different? No. More are very similar and do just about the exact same thing. It is all in how you use the ankle brace and when you use it. For example, it makes a big difference if the laces are not tight. Check that. EVERY time you go out, you should have on your ankle brace. Until you are fully recovered. Take it easy for a few weeks so your ankles can heal. It really is that simple.

  6. Having read this I believed it was rather informative.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and commenting.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

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