UT University Health Services

Ankle Sprain

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is an injury that causes a stretch or tear of one or more ligaments in the ankle joint. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones at the joint.

Sprains may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

There are many ligaments in the ankle. The most common type of sprain involves the ligaments on the outside part of the ankle (lateral ankle sprain). Ligaments on the inside of the ankle may also be injured (medial ankle sprain) as well as ligaments that are high and in the middle of the ankle (high ankle sprains).

How does it occur?

A sprain is caused by twisting your ankle. Your foot usually turns in or under but may turn to the outside.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • mild aching to sudden pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • inability to move the ankle properly
  • pain in the ankle even when you are not putting any weight on it

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose a sprained ankle, the healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your ankle carefully. X-rays may be taken of your ankle.

How it is treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Raise the ankle with a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Use an elastic bandage, lace-up brace or ankle stirrup (an Aircast or Gel cast) on the ankle as directed by your provider.
  • Use crutches until you can walk without pain.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Follow your provider's instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

Rarely, severe ankle sprains with complete tearing of the ligaments need surgery. After surgery your ankle will be in a cast for 4 to 8 weeks.

How long will the effects last?

The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous ankle injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the sprain. A mild ankle sprain may recover within a few weeks, whereas a severe ankle sprain may take 6 weeks or longer to recover. Recovery also depends on which ligaments were torn. A lateral sprain (outside ligaments) takes less time to recover than a medial sprain (inside ligaments) or a high ankle sprain (high, middle ligaments).

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your ankle recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal of rehabilitation is to return to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

You may safely return to your normal activities when, starting from the top of the list and progressing to the end, each of the following is true:

  • You have full range of motion in the injured ankle compared to the uninjured ankle.
  • You have full strength of the injured ankle compared to the uninjured ankle.
  • You can walk straight ahead without pain or limping.

How can I help prevent an ankle sprain?

To help prevent an ankle sprain:

  • Wear proper, well-fitting shoes when you exercise.
  • Stretch gently and adequately before and after athletic or recreational activities.
  • Avoid sharp turns and quick changes in direction and movement.
  • Consider taping the ankle or wearing a brace for strenuous sports, especially if you have a previous injury.
ankle sprain

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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