Health Information

Sprained Ankles Need Attention

Sprained ankles are among the most common injuries seen in health care provider's offices and emergency departments every day.

When you sprain an ankle, 1 or more ligaments of your ankle become stretched or torn. Ankle sprains most often occur when your toes are on the ground, but your heel is up and you are walking on an uneven surface. Your ankle can turn inward, damaging the ligaments.

Ligaments of the ankle provide mechanical stability, allow motion of the joint, and provide a sense of where your ankle joint is. The most commonly sprained ligaments are those on the outside of the ankle, on the side farthest from the other ankle. But, it is also possible to sprain the ligaments on the inside of the ankle. 

If you think you've sprained your ankle, see your health care provider. Although in many cases X-rays are not necessary, your health care provider may decide that you need one to make sure you do not have a fracture and to determine a treatment plan.

Frequent sprains can lead to arthritis, tendon injury, and an ankle that gives way easily.

Your health care provider may advise you to:

  • Immobilize the ankle with an inflatable splint.

  • Use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).

  • Let the ankle bear weight as best you can, using crutches.

  • Move the ankle a bit with your health provider's guidance.

  • Take anti-inflammatory medications.

In severe cases, your health care provider may put a cast on the foot and ankle for 10 to 14 days.

Your health care provider may advise you to wear an ankle brace for a few months, especially during a high-risk activity like playing basketball or volleyball, hiking, or just climbing stairs.

Recovery after a sprain

Whatever the severity of sprain, the ankle needs time to recover. The first step in rehabilitation is to rest the ankle, protecting it from further injury and reducing the swelling by following RICE. The next step is to make muscles and ligaments stronger, and to restore range of motion. The last step involves activities that move the foot in a straight line, followed later by sports that use more cutting, or side-to-side movements.

If you sprain your ankle, it's important to follow through with rehabilitation to avoid further injury. Once your ankle is fully recovered, work to keep your ankle in good shape with flexibility and strengthening exercises.

Ankle exercise

When your ankle feels more stable, ask your health care provider about this exercise:

Stand on both legs. Brace yourself with one hand. Lift the uninjured leg off the ground by bending your knee. Do this for 60 seconds with your eyes closed. Switch sides and repeat until it's just as easy on both sides. Then, increase the time. This helps make your ankle stronger and may help to prevent future injuries.