Ankle sprains are common musculoskeletal injuries that can occur from playing sports or from everyday activities. When the foot lands awkwardly, when the ground is uneven, or when an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint, an unnatural twisting motion of the ankle joint can occur resulting in tissue injury and inflammation of the ankle.
Sprained Ankle Recovery Times
An ankle sprain diagnosis is based on grades. Generally, the higher the grade, the more damage to the ligament. The time it takes for a sprained ankle to heal can depend on the severity of the sprain.
- Grade I
- Only minor damage to the ligament
- No instability of the ankle joint
- Usually heals in one to three weeks with home treatment such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation
- Grade II
- Moderate to severe damage to the ligament
- Some slight instability but ankle function is intact
- Can take between three to four weeks to heal
- Grade III
- Complete disruption of the ligament(s)
- Ankle is unstable and may require surgery
- May take between three to six months to heal due to limited blood flow to the ligaments
What Are Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle?
Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:
- Pain, especially when weight bearing
- Swelling (may be severe)
- Inability to bear weight on the ankle
- Redness and warmth
- Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury
- Ankle stiffness
- Limited range of motion
- Skin discoloration
What Causes a Sprained Ankle?
Sudden stretching that is more than normal can injure ligaments in the ankle and result in an ankle sprain. This unnatural twisting motion of the ankle joint can occur when:
- Foot lands awkwardly, such as when running, stepping up or down, or even during routine activities such as getting out of bed
- The ground is uneven or there is an irregular surface, such as stepping in a hole or bump
- An unusual amount of force is applied to the joint
- Sports where one player steps on another player, causing one player’s foot to roll inward
Inversion ankle sprain injuries, in which the foot rolls inward, are more common than eversion injuries (also called a high ankle sprain), in which the foot twists outward.
How Is a Sprained Ankle Diagnosed?
A sprained ankle is diagnosed with a patient history which includes how and when the injury occurred and a physical examination of the ankle and foot.
Imaging tests may be needed to check for fracture or other serious injury, including:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
What Is the Treatment for a Sprained Ankle?
The goals of treatment for a sprained ankle is to reduce inflammation, help relieve pain, and aid healing.
- RICE method
- Rest: may use a brace, splint, or crutches to take weight off the ankle
- Ice: helps decrease pain, swelling, and redness
- If done immediately after the injury, it may prevent some inflammation
- Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel
- Apply ice for 20 minutes at a time, several times daily
- Compression: helps support the ankle and prevent inflammation
- Use elastic wraps such as Ace bandages
- Do not wrap too tightly
- Elevation: keep the injured area propped up to help reduce fluid buildup in the injured tissue
- Try to prop the ankle above the level of the heart
Other home treatments for sprained ankle include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) and naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn) to reduce pain
Medical treatment for sprained ankle includes:
- Using a brace, cast, or walking boot to reduce motion of the ankle
- Crutches may be used to avoid putting weight on the injured ankle
- For severe pain, narcotics may be prescribed
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