What to Know About a Deltoid Ligament Sprain

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on October 19, 2022
4 min read

The ankle is complex, composed of multiple bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints. As a result, it can be injured in many ways, including fractures, twists, sprains, and strains. One type of sprain, a deltoid ligament sprain, is specifically an injury to your inner ankle. While it’s not common, it’s still painful and can incapacitate you for quite some time.

Sprains occur when a ligament is stretched or torn. Ligaments are rope-like bands of fibers within your body. They’re connective tissue, mainly used to hold bones together at the joints, though they also help support the internal organs. Your body contains over 900 ligaments.

The deltoid ligament, also called the medial ankle ligament, is one of many ligaments in your ankle. 

Deltoid ligament location. Your deltoid ligament is located in the lower leg and is responsible for stabilizing your inner ankle. It connects to several bones in this area, including the:

  • Calcaneus, the heel bone
  • Medial malleolus, the bone that creates the bump on the inside of your ankle
  • Navicular, the uppermost bone on the inside of your foot
  • Tibia, your shinbone
  • Talus, the bone between your shin and your heel

Deltoid ligament anatomy. Your deltoid ligament is shaped like a triangle and divided into four individual groups of ligaments. These have two layers, one deep within your ankle and one closer to the surface of your skin. They work together to provide stability.

Deltoid ligament sprains typically occur when you roll your ankle or when a muscle in the upper ankle is sprained. They are rare, only accounting for 15% of ankle sprains. 

Deltoid ligament sprains are more common among those who play sports like gymnastics, basketball, and soccer. Other risk factors include a history of ankle injuries, lack of coordination, and shoes that offer insufficient support.

The primary symptoms of a deltoid ligament sprain are pain and swelling of the inner ankle. Other symptoms may include:

  • Bruising, which may spread to your heel
  • Difficulty bearing weight or walking on the injured heel
  • Feeling a tear at the time of injury
  • Hearing a pop at the time of injury
  • Trouble moving your ankle

Your symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the sprain. If you’re unable to move or put weight on your ankle, or if you feel any numbness, you should see a doctor.

Types of Ligament Sprain

Ligament sprains are divided into three categories:

  • Grade 1 sprains: Your ligament is stretched but isn’t torn.
  • Grade 2 sprains: Your ligament is partially torn.
  • Grade 3 sprains: Your ligament is completely torn.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose a deltoid ligament sprain based solely on a physical examination. To get more information about the extent of your injury, though, or ensure that there are no bone fractures or other underlying injuries, they may also order imaging tests.

MRI. To get a better look at your ligament injury, your doctor may use magnetic resonance imaging. An MRI combines computer-generated radio waves with a magnetic field to provide 360-degree views of the internal organs and soft tissues within your body.

X-ray. X-rays use focused radiation to produce images. On an x-ray, things that are dense, like bones, appear white. Your doctor can use an X-ray to check for fractures or other bone problems that might be contributing to your injury.

If your sprain is mild, you can treat it at home using the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest. Avoid putting unnecessary stress on your ankle, specifically anything that causes you more pain, swelling, or discomfort.
  • Ice. Ice your sprain right away, either with an ice pack or a slush bath (a mix of ice and water). Then, ice the area again for 15 to 20 minutes every two or three hours.
  • Compression. Wrapping your sprained ankle in an elastic bandage can help stop the swelling. Avoid wrapping your ankle too tightly, though, or you could cut off the circulation. Loosen your wrap if the pain gets worse, if you feel numbness, or if the area below the bandage starts to swell.
  • Elevation. To help reduce swelling, elevate your injured ankle above your heart, especially when you’re sleeping. Try propping it up on a few pillows or cushions.

NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin can help relieve pain and swelling and are available over-the-counter. Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe acetaminophen, which won’t help the swelling but can help relieve pain.

After a few days, you can try to use your injured ankle. To help you regain strength and mobility, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. Be gentle, though, and don’t go too fast, as that could cause further injury.

Depending on the severity of your injury, your doctor may prescribe something to support and immobilize your ankle, like a splint or walking boot. In cases of severe sprains (for instance, if your deltoid ligament is torn), you may also require surgery.

The best way to avoid deltoid ligament sprains is to prevent ankle injuries. Precautions you could take include

  • Keeping your muscles conditioned and flexible with consistent training
  • Properly warming up and stretching before vigorous activity
  • Wearing a brace, tape, or wrap to prevent injury, especially if you have a history of ankle injuries

Overall, taking proper care of your muscles is the best thing you can do to avoid muscle injury. Before working out, take the time to stretch and warm up. During physical activities, don’t push your body past its limits. If you’re playing a sport, make sure your body is in sufficient shape so you don’t injure yourself. 

Training and physical conditioning will keep your muscles strong, flexible, and stable so you hopefully don’t end up with an injury. After exercising, make sure you properly stretch again and cool down to allow your muscles to recover.