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How to Treat a Sprained Ankle

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT January 16, 2020 0 Comments

Sprained ankle brace

Spraining your ankle can be frustrating due to the pain and limitations it puts on your normal daily activities. Luckily, it's not hard to learn how to treat a sprained ankle and recovery is pretty simple with the right knowledge. When initiated immediately, you are more likely to recover without complications and quickly return to your normal routine.

Self-Care & Home Treatments

No matter the severity of your injury, there are treatment strategies that you can start at home. Self-care will boost your recovery process. Most of these treatment options are simple and straight forward to start right away. However, before getting started, make sure you understand the severity of a sprained ankle and always talk to a trusted health care professional first.

RICE Method


When sustaining any sort of injury, resting the tissues that are directly affected is important to allow the proper cascade of healing to be initiated by your body. For an ankle sprain, minimize the amount of weight-bearing through your affected leg until you are cleared by your doctor or physical therapist for more. Use your level of pain as your guide for when you’re ready to do more activity with your injured ankle.

**Outside of resting the ankle, remember that modified exercise and activity that does not affect the ankle will actually promote better recovery. In other words, resting the ankle does not equate to being sedentary.

Ice and Heat

New ankle sprains tend to involve some form of pain and swelling. Cold therapy is a great way to address these without the use of medications. Alternatively, they can also potentially boost the use of anti-inflammatory and pain medications. As swelling improves, alternating between hot and cold therapy can promote pain relief and increased blood flow for more rapid healing and comfort.

Tips on Icing an Injured Ankle


Applying pressure around the ankle via compression socks, wraps, and/or taping has many benefits. The direct pressure can help alleviate swelling and promote better overall blood circulation. Additionally, the compression itself can soothe the area and provide pain relief. Lastly, your body becomes more aware of how you are using your ankle to help prevent further injury and promote optimal recovery.

Options for Wrapping a Sprained Ankle


This is the last part of the RICE equation, all with the ultimate goal of reducing swelling and pain to improve the overall healing process. Prop your ankle up in a way that places it at or above the level of your heart, allowing excess fluid to move out of the lower leg and be properly reabsorbed.

How to Reduce Swelling in the Ankle


A sprained ankle comes with differing levels of instability due to overstretching of the ligaments in the ankle. This decreases the innate support in the foot and ankle for activities like walking, standing, and jumping. Unfortunately, this instability puts your healing ankle at risk for further injury. Ankle braces can provide ankle support as you go through each phase of healing. Ultimately, the goal is to restore enough stability in the ankle that you won’t need an ankle brace anymore. However, this will ultimately depend on the severity of the injury. For more severe injuries, you may find you will always need an ankle brace for higher-level activities, such as running, hiking, or certain sports.

Choosing the Best Ankle Brace

Stretches and Strengthening Exercises

When you’re ready, a proper stretching and strengthening program will optimize your return to your activities of daily living. Stretching will address any sore, tight areas in the lower leg, foot and ankle joint that may have resulted directly from the injury or during the rest period of the healing process (especially if you were in a brace). Additionally, you will regain proper and adequate range of motion in the ankle that you need for normal functioning. Strengthening will help to gradually rebuild lost muscle strength with the goal of restoring coordination.

Stretches for a Sprained Ankle

Exercises for a Sprained Ankle

Wear Proper Shoes

As you gradually return to higher-level activities, make sure you are minimizing the risk of reinjury with the right shoe wear. What you need will depend on your foot and ankle type. In general, look for orthotics that provide arch support and stabilize the position of the heel when bearing weight. You can achieve this with specific shoes or by adding an orthotic. If you are unsure of what you need, talk to a biomechanics specialist, orthopedic doctor, physical therapist or podiatrist for personalized recommendations.

Find the Right Orthotics for You

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

NSAIDs, such as Aleve, Advil, and ibuprofen, can help kickstart the recovery process by providing pain relief and reducing inflammation. This can allow better tolerance for daily activities, your exercise program, and other beneficial activities for recovery like sleeping. These over the counter medications are a great short term option for boosting recovery but should not be used long term. NSAIDs come with the risk of side effects to your organs, such as kidney damage. Talk to a pharmacist or your doctor to decide what’s best for you, especially if you are taking any other medications. If your pain is severe, a stronger prescription pain or anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed as needed. Always enact the RICE method (as listed above) to minimize your dependence and need for medications when possible.

Professional Treatment


Massage therapy, whether done professionally or at home, has many great benefits. Pain relief, swelling management, and promoting an overall sense of well-being are just a few of the reasons to try massage. Massage techniques may include deep tissue/myofascial, gentle rhythmic motions, trigger points, and general full-body relaxation, all with their own specific benefits. Schedule an appointment with your favorite massage therapist or try some simple cost-efficient home options (such as a TENS unit, massage ball, or wand).

Massage Techniques for a Sprained Ankle

Physical Therapy

Working with a physical therapist is a great conservative treatment option for maximizing your recovery. They can guide you throughout the healing process and work with you to build confidence as you progress. It can be hard to decide when the right time is to rest and when to push yourself further. With the right awareness and education, you will know that you are taking the right steps.

An important part of recovery from an ankle sprain that is often overlooked, especially with a severe sprain, is restoring proprioception (the body’s own awareness of a joint and how it’s moving) to damaged nerve endings and sensors in the ankle. This is done by safely challenging the ankle in relatively unstable conditions to help restore proper balance and coordination. Ultimately, you will finish physical therapy with a personalized home program to continue to make and maintain the progress you made throughout the recovery process.


Surgery is the rarest treatment option available for recovery. Due to its invasive nature and risks involved, conservative treatment is always done first. If the ankle is not responding well to other treatment options, surgery is considered. Surgery should never be an option for treating pain only. However, if there continues to be significant instability in the ankle that is affecting your ability to participate in your normal daily activities, you should consult with a sports medicine surgeon. Surgery typically involves restoring stability to your ankle by increasing the amount of tension in your ligaments. This is done by cinching and screwing the affected ligaments into more optimized areas.

Taking Precautions

Recovering from an ankle sprain requires a delicate balance of rest and movement. To ensure you are taking the right steps, keep these points in mind:

  • Start slow and controlled. Assess how you tolerated a new activity before increasing time, intensity, or any other factor.
  • Mild to moderate increases in pain with exercise or a new activity are okay. They should not last more than 24 hours, this is an indication that you overdid it.
  • Don’t rest for too long if possible, this can result in loss of ankle strength and flexibility and make the recovery process more time and effort consuming. Listen to your body while pushing yourself when possible.
  • Talk to a medical professional if you are not sure what you can do with your injury or to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek help immediately (you will probably need an x-ray):
    • A sudden inability to bear weight through your ankle
    • The onset of severe pain, bruising or swelling
    • Numbness and tingling in the lower leg, foot, or ankle


With the right understanding and tools for your ankle injury, you will be surprised by how quickly you can recover. By taking immediate action, talking with your doctor, and staying in tune with your symptoms, you can heal with confidence and get back to business as usual.


Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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