Even the slightest misstep can cause a sprained ankle. Spraining your ankle is painful and will slow you down, but the good news is that treating a sprained ankle is almost as easy as getting one in the first place. A quick response is key, so be sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible to implement a treatment program. Read on to learn how to recognize common sprained ankle symptoms so you can get the help you need fast.
Sprained ankles are extremely common—approximately 25,000 people sprain an ankle every day. Not to be confused with a strain, which involves injury to the muscles or tendons, an ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments—tough bands of tissue that hold bones together. Ankle sprains happen when these ligaments are overstretched or, in severe cases, torn.
Sprained Ankle Causes
A sprained ankle is caused by a sudden and forceful shift in the natural position of the ankle joint, leading to the stretching or tearing of the ankle’s ligaments. There are several common reasons for this shift:
Walking, running, or simply stepping on an uneven surface can cause an ankle sprain.
Landing awkwardly on your foot after slipping, falling, or jumping is an easy way to injure your ankle.
Unbalanced placement of the foot when stepping up or down places tension on the ankle ligaments, making them more susceptible to strains.
Sports place added demands on the ankle’s range of motion, increasing the risk of a sprained ankle.
Previous injury to the ankle has long-lasting effects on the joint’s stability. Those who have previously sprained an ankle are more likely to injure their ankle again.
Sprained Ankle Symptoms
Knowing the symptoms of a sprained ankle will help you differentiate between a sprain and a break—and seek proper treatment immediately.
Recognize the symptoms of a sprained ankle is key to preventing further damage to the joint. Here are the common signs of a sprained ankle.
Pain and Discomfort
Depending on the severity of the sprain, you may experience considerable discomfort or excruciating pain. You may hear or feel a pop at the moment the injury occurs.
Sprained Ankle Bruising
A sprained ankle is usually accompanied by bruising, as well as swelling and stiffness. Pronounced bruising is usually a sign of a severe ankle sprain.
Sprained Ankle Swelling
A swollen sprained ankle is the byproduct of increased of blood flow to the area—the body's way of initiating the healing process. Added blood flow may also cause heat and redness.
Types of Sprained Ankle Pain
Not all sprained ankles are created equal. Identifying the type and grade of your sprained ankle can help you choose the correct treatment option.
Inversion vs. Eversion Ankle Sprain
Inversion Ankle Sprain
An inversion sprain happens when the ankle rolls inward and damages the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle. Inversion sprains are the most common type of ankle sprain.
Eversion Ankle Sprain
Less frequently, the ankle rolls outward. An eversion sprain is painful along the inner side of the ankle and can cause serious injury to the ligaments and tendons supporting the arch of the foot.
Sprained Ankle Grades
Ankle sprains range from mild to severe. The presentation of symptoms usually match the severity of the injury.
1. Grade 1 Ankle Sprain (Mild)
A mild ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments are stretched, sometimes displaying microscopic tears. Symptoms include:
Light bruising, if any
2. Grade 2 Ankle Sprain (Moderate)
A sprained ankle is considered moderate when there is partial tearing of the ligaments and abnormal looseness of the joint. Symptoms include:
3. Grade 3 Ankle Sprain (Severe)
A severe sprained ankle is classified by the complete tear of ligaments. Symptoms include:
Major joint instability
How to Treat a Sprained Ankle
Sprained ankle treatment depends largely on the nature and grade of the sprain. Mild-to-moderate ankle sprains generally need only rest and support, while severe sprained ankles require specialized treatment. Be sure to talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment for your injury.
No matter the severity of your sprained ankle, it’s always a good idea to employ the R.I.C.E method immediately following your injury.
Rest. Taking weight off the ankle and allowing it to rest is essential for preventing further injury.
Ice. Apply an ice pack to the sprain to reduce swelling. During the first 48 hours following an ankle sprain, ice the injury for twenty minutes at a time, every one to two hours.
Compression. Use compression to reduce swelling and pain. Use elastic compression wraps, and for more severe strains, use them in conjunction with a brace.
Elevation. Keep the injured ankle raised above heart level for two to three hours per day.
How To Wrap a Sprained Ankle
Wrapping your ankle reduces swelling and relieves pain, but wrapping your ankle incorrectly may do more harm than good. Use the steps below to ensure you’re wrapping your ankle correctly.
Position your ankle at a natural ninety-degree angle.
Begin wrapping a wide elastic bandage at the base of your toes, holding the loose end in at the side of your foot. Keeping the bandage taut, bring it around the ball of your foot to anchor the end.
Wrapping firmly, but not so tightly you cut off blood flow, circle the bandage around the arch of the foot.
Place a foam horseshoe beneath the ankle bone with the open side up. Pull the bandage diagonally across the top of the foot and wrap it around the ankle. In a figure-eight pattern, bring the bandage across the top of the foot and under the arch.
Wrap the bandage in a figure-eight pattern until the entire foot and ankle are covered.
Secure the bandage with clips, with tape, or by tucking it into itself.
Support with a Sprained Ankle Brace
A sprained ankle brace is the easiest and most effective treatment for healing your sprained ankle and preventing further injury. ( See Product )
An ankle brace reduces the risk of further injury by stabilizing and supporting the damaged joint. Some ankle braces are designed for everyday use and can be used as preventative measures for athletes or those with previous injuries. Here are the most common types of ankle braces.
Ankle sleeves provide compression to relieve pain, reduce swelling, and improve circulation. ( See Product )
Comfortable and great for everyday use, ankle sleeves offer excellent compression but don't provide stability. They’re best for mild sprains or prevention.
Straps offer good flexibility and moderate support, making them a popular choice among athletes.
Stirrups are semi-rigid, offering good support without interfering with mobility. They usually feature adjustable air- or gel-filled pads on either side of the ankle.
These are made of rigid materials and offer excellent support and immobilization during recovery.
Combining key features of all the above ankle braces, hybrids are a modern option that provide support without sacrificing functionality.
Always discuss any treatment plan, including ankle braces, with your doctor.
Sprained ankle recovery time varies depending on the degree of the sprain. Those with grade 1 sprains typically resume normal activities after two weeks. Recovering from more severe sprains takes longer—anywhere from six to twelve weeks.
Sprained Ankle Rehab
Regardless of the severity of the ankle sprain, there are three phases of ankle of recovery that need to be followed to ensure complete rehabilitation and to prevent complications:
Phase 1: Follow the initial R.I.C.E. guidelines of rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Phase 2: Slowly introduce gentle exercises to improve range of motion, flexibility and strength.
Phase 3: Perform maintenance exercises and gradually return to normal activities. Following the completion of this last phase of ankle rehabilitation, return to sports and other activities.
Sprained Ankle Exercises
Exercising your sprained ankle is an important part of recovery. Always consult your doctor before attempting any new exercises. When you’re ready, try the rehab movements below to begin strengthening your ankle and improving your range of motion.
Step 1: Trace the entire alphabet with your big toe.
Step 2: Repeat 1 to 3 times.
This encourages multi-directional movement and prevents stiffness.
Step 1: Sit with your feet flat on the floor.
Step 2: Slowly move your knee from side to side.
Step 3: Continue the motion for up to 3 minutes.
This exercise may be done in the first 72 hours following injury and will improve your range of motion.
Step 1: Sit with the injured leg extended straight out in front of you.
Step 2: Place a rolled towel under the ball of your foot, holding the ends of the towel in each hand.
Step 3: Keeping the knee straight, gently pull the towel toward you.
Step 4: Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
This exercise stretches the Achilles tendon and may be performed when it can be done with little to no pain.
Step 1: Sit with your foot flat on the floor.
Step 2: Push the side of your foot against a wall.
Step 3: Hold for 6 seconds or as long as comfortable.
This exercise is recommend for strengthening the ankle after recovery.
Step 1: Sit with both feet together, flat on the floor.
Step 2: Press the injured foot against the other.
Step 3: Hold for 6 seconds.
Step 1: Place the heel of the unaffected foot on top of the injured foot.
Step 2: Gently push down with the heel, while pushing up with the injured foot.
Step 3: Hold for 6 seconds.
Use this exercise to improve your joint strength following recovery.
Sprained Ankle Prevention
There are a number of precautionary steps you can take to prevent ankle sprains:
Always warm up properly before exercise or other strenuous activities.
Use care when walking or running on uneven surfaces.
Wear shoes that provide proper ankle support.
Use a suitable ankle brace for high-risk activities, such as sports or hiking.
Don’t Let a Sprained Ankle Stop You
While the vast majority of ankle sprains recovery fully without surgery, early treatment is key to a speedy recovery so you can get back to the activities you love. Consult your doctor and begin RICE treatment the moment you injure your ankle. Then, take it easy and follow the recommendations above to make sure your ankle heals fully. Don’t worry, you’ll be running and jumping in no time.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.
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