Treating a Sprained Ankle
A sprained ankle is one of the most common orthopedic injuries. Every day, about 25,000 people in the U.S. suffer an ankle sprain. Ankle sprains occur in both athletes and those with sedentary lifestyles, and they can occur during sports or when walking to carry out daily activities.
A sprain is actually an injury to the ligaments of the ankle joint, which are elastic, band-like structures that hold the bones of the ankle joint together and prevent excess turning and twisting of the joint. In normal movement, the ligaments can stretch slightly and then retract back to their normal shape and size. A sprain results when the ligaments of the ankle have been stretched beyond their limits. In severe sprains, the ligaments may be partially or completely torn.
To diagnose a sprained ankle, your doctor may order X-rays or other imaging studies to confirm that a bone has not been broken.
Pain and swelling that result from a sprained ankle usually last for a few days, and most sprains heal in four to six weeks. The acronym RICE can be used to remember the recommended treatment for a mild sprain:
In cases of more severe sprains, your doctor may recommend splints or casts to keep the joint better immobilized for a longer period of time. Crutches may be used if walking on the ankle is painful. Rehabilitation exercises that involve movement of the ankle are recommended to prevent future scarring and stiffness of the joint. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be taken to help control pain.
It is possible to take steps to reduce your chances of suffering a sprained ankle. Always wear good shoes, and pay attention to surfaces where you are walking or participating in sports. Be sure to warm up thoroughly before strenuous exercise, and watch out for symptoms of fatigue when exercising, as fatigue can lead to carelessness and injury. Appropriate care and treatment of a sprained ankle are very important, since an improperly treated sprain can result in permanent instability or dysfunction of the joint.
Medically reviewed by Aimee V. HachigianGould, MD; American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
Last Editorial Review: 4/20/2016