A high ankle sprain, also called a syndesmotic sprain, involves injury to the syndesmotic ligaments. The syndesmotic ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect the leg bones (tibia and fibula) together above the ankle joint, which is why this injury is called a high ankle sprain.
These injuries are much less common than standard ankle sprains, comprising only 15% of all ankle sprains.
The mechanism of injury is different than a lateral ankle sprain, which occurs with an inward twisting mechanism. High ankle sprains occur when the lower leg and foot externally rotates. They are common in sports such as skiing and football.
Symptoms may include:
• Difficulty bearing weight, standing or walking
• Pain and swelling above the level of the ankle
• Tenderness at the syndesmotic ligaments above the ankle joint
Specific exams for this injury include the squeeze test and external rotation test. Each of these is performed by the doctor, with the presence of pain at the syndesmosis indicating a high ankle sprain.
The physical exam may reveal other locations of tenderness and in some cases this injury is associated with an ankle or leg fracture.
Imaging studies may include:
• X-rays of the ankle and leg to check for fractures and alignment of the ankle
• A “stress” X-ray, in which the ankle joint is gently examined for stability
• MRI to check for ligament/tendon tears, bone bruising, cartilage injury
• CT to view bone details (fractures, relationship between tibia and fibula)
It is important to determine if the high ankle sprain is stable. If the high ankle ligaments are torn and there is widening of the ankle syndesmosis or shifting of the bones, surgery is required to establish the correct alignment of the ankle to allow proper healing and function.