Most of the time, you will begin to feel the symptoms of an ankle sprain right after it is injured. Symptoms of an ankle sprain almost always include:
- Mild to moderate pain, especially when trying to move the joint
- Tenderness when touched
- Ankle instability
In some cases, you may not be able to put weight on your ankle right after it is sprained.
If the sprain is more serious, you may feel a tearing sensation when the ankle is injured and hear a pop or snap. You may also notice:
- Inability to move the joint (usually due to swelling)
- Extreme pain
- Inability to put weight on the foot
As a general rule, the more pain and swelling you have with your sprain, the more serious it is, and the longer it may take to heal. If you notice the symptoms of a more severe sprain, you should see your healthcare provider for treatment.
Call your healthcare provider if:
- Walking is very painful or you can’t put weight on it
- The pain doesn’t get better after resting and icing it
- Your bruising, swelling, or pain is getting worse
- Your ankle continues to feel weak or unstable
- You have signs of an infection, such as redness, warmth, and tenderness in the injured area, or a fever over 100-degrees Fahrenheit
Most of the time, an ankle sprain is caused by an over-extension in the ankle joint, such as twisting too much, or rolling more than the joint is supposed to normally move. In most sprains, the ankle rolls outward and the foot turns inward, over-stretching the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. This can be caused by:
- Tripping or falling in a way that twists your ankle
- Landing wrong after jumping or pivoting
- Someone else landing on you, as can happen during a sports activity
Some people may have weak ankles or other diseases that run in the family and make them more prone to ankle sprains. Also, having one ankle sprain makes it more likely to get more ankle sprains in the future as they can make the ankle weaker.
Your doctor may perform a physical exam to help diagnose an ankle sprain. During the exam, your doctor will check your ankle and foot, as well as your lower leg and even your knee to make sure there are no other injuries.
Your doctor will also ask what caused the injury to help find out whether you received other injuries (such as an ankle fracture). Your doctor may also take x-rays to make sure the ankle is not broken or fractured, and confirm that the only injury is a sprain.
Mild ankle sprains are often treated at home using the RICE method. RICE stands for:
- Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injured ankle, and avoid participating in normal activities until your ankle gets better.
- Ice: Use an ice pack (you can also use a bag of frozen vegetables if you do not have an ice pack) for 15-20 minutes, three times a day.
- Compression: You can use a compression bandage, compression sock, or compression brace to help put pressure on the ankle and reduce swelling.
- Elevation: To keep swelling down, elevate (raise) your foot above the level of your heart. You can do this by lying down on a couch or floor and placing pillows under your foot and knee until your ankle is higher than your chest.
You can also try to reduce swelling and relieve pain using over-the-counter pain medications such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil).
If your symptoms last more than a week without getting better, or if they seem to be getting worse and are accompanied by a fever, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
More severe sprains should be treated by a healthcare provider. Treatment may include:
- Using a splint or cast to keep the ankle from moving.
- Physical therapy to help regain the full range of motion.
- In rare cases, surgery may be needed to repair the ligament.
It’s important to rest your ankle until it’s fully recovered. As a rule, most of the time it is safe to begin them once your ankle can bear weight again without pain or discomfort. But if you return to activity too quickly after your injury, you run the risk of re-injuring it or worsening your injury.
If you have sprained your ankle, regardless of the severity, you may want to look into physical therapy to help teach you how to strengthen the muscles around your ankle and help you prevent re-injury. Talk to your doctor about when it is safe to begin ankle-strengthening exercises after your injury.
Although not all ankle sprains can be prevented, there are some things you can do to help prevent an ankle sprain. These tips include:
- Make sure you wear the correct shoes for the activity you are doing, and making sure they provide enough support.
- Practice stability and balance exercises on one and both feet to help strengthen the ankles.
- Avoid walking on rough or uneven surfaces that may cause you to roll your ankle.
- If you have prior ankle injuries, consider bracing the ankle that you have injured before to help prevent re-injury.
- Warm up prior to any physical activities, and make sure to stretch your legs and feet.
- Stay in shape, and avoid sports or activities that may be too aggressive for your physical condition.
Although most ankle sprains are not cause for alarm, they should still be avoided because each sprain weakens the ankle more, and makes it more likely to sprain in the future. Several ankle sprains over the course of time can damage the ankle joint. If you find you are frequently spraining your ankle, you should make an appointment to see your doctor to talk about why this is happening and see if there is something that can be done to solve the problem.
The bones of the ankle are held in place and supported with strong bands of flexible tissue called ligaments. A sprain happens when one of these ligaments stretches or tears. Because ankles are a heavily used and holds a lot of our body’s weight, they can sprain easily. Anything from hard fall to a minor trip or ankle twist can lead to an ankle sprain. The most common kind of ankle sprain is when the ligament on the outside of the ankle tears.
Ankle sprains range from mild to severe, all depending on how badly the ligaments have been injured, as well has how many ligaments have been damaged. Mild sprains may feel a little stiff and sore, where severe sprains may be difficult or impossible to walk on.
Ankle sprains are ordered into grades by how severe they are.
- Grade I sprains are the mildest. The ligaments have been stretched and you may feel some soreness and swelling. These tend heal on their own within a few days to a couple of weeks. Grade 1 sprains are usually treated using the rest, ice, compression, and elevating the leg.
- Grade 2 sprains are when the ligaments tear a little. Your ankle joint may feel wobbly or loose. These sprains cause more pain and swelling, and sometimes bruising. You may need to wear a splint or cast.
- Grade 3 sprains are when the ligament tears completely. Your ankle joint will be very painful and unstable and you may not be able to put any weight on it. A Grade 3 sprain can lead to permanent ankle disability if not treated. You should see a doctor as soon as possible. You may need surgery.
A sprain sometimes happens with other ankle injuries, such as a broken bone. If the sprain is very painful or you can’t put weight on it, have it checked by a healthcare provider.