A sprained ankle is a common injury that occurs when the ankle ligaments are torn or stretched too far, often after a fall, or if you roll or twist your ankle. The majority of sprains heal on their own but treatment to strengthen the injured muscles can prevent future sprains.
A sprained ankle is a common injury when the tissue that connects your ankle bones and supports your ankle (ligaments) is torn or stretched beyond its limits, often after a fall, ankle roll or twist.
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A sprained ankle is when the ligaments in your ankle are torn. A broken ankle or ankle fracture is when one or more of the bones in your ankle break. Severe sprains and fractures have similar symptoms (pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness) and are both caused by twisting or rotating your ankle, tripping or falling, or trauma to your ankle. Sprains heal faster, but it can take up to six weeks for a broken ankle to heal.
Anyone, at any age, can sprain their ankle. Sprains are most common in athletes during sporting events but can happen during everyday activities as well.
There are three types of ankle sprains based on how much ligament damage occurred:
The symptoms of a sprained ankle include:
Rolling or twisting the ankle causes ankle sprains. The most common ankle sprains are the result of:
Your healthcare provider will diagnose your sprained ankle after a physical examination of your foot and ankle to identify your range of motion and determine which ligaments are affected. The physical exam is typically followed by an imaging test, like an X-ray.
If you fell or twisted your ankle, and the injury causes you pain, swelling, bruising and you have trouble walking, you can assume that you have a sprained ankle. Visit your healthcare provider and they'll assess the injury, confirm the diagnosis and offer a treatment plan.
For the majority of ankle sprains, healthcare providers recommend using the PRICE method for the first 24-48 hours after injury. PRICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.
If your sprain is very painful and swollen or you're having trouble walking and putting pressure on your ankle, visit your healthcare provider for treatment.
Anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, may help alleviate pain and swelling from the sprain.
Swelling normally doesn't appear immediately. It could take several hours to develop. If you develop swelling, it could last up to 48 hours for a mild to moderate sprain. Swelling on severe sprains may last longer until your torn ligament heals.
Your healthcare provider may recommend the use of crutches, a boot or a brace/splint to keep weight off of your ankle and give your ankle support and stability (protection). Putting too much pressure on a sprained ankle could worsen the sprain, cause more discomfort and prolong healing time.
Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy to help you regain strength and mobility. Physical therapy is common for athletes, so you can return to your sport once the injury heals. There’s evidence to support physical therapy as important to proper healing.
Surgery is rare to treat an acute ankle sprain. If you have long-term problems with your ankle like instability — rolling your ankle repeatedly — then your healthcare provider may recommend surgery.
Most sprains heal on their own, but rebuilding strength in your ankle can help prevent future injuries. If you don't allow your ankle ligaments time to heal, you may have long-lasting instability (chronic ankle sprains) or repeat ankle sprains. If your symptoms continue for more than four to six weeks after injury and you still feel weakness when walking on your foot, you may have a chronic ankle sprain.
In order to prevent ankle sprains, you can:
After giving your ankle time to heal and treating the sprain according to your healthcare provider’s recommendations, you'll be able to get back to regular activities. Your prognosis depends on your commitment to building strength back in your ankle through exercises and rehabilitation. If your ankle hasn't healed completely or you stopped the strengthening exercises, your injured ligament could weaken and put you at risk for future ankle sprains.
The recovery time for a sprained ankle varies depending on the severity of your injury. It may take anywhere from two weeks to heal a minor sprain and anywhere from six to 12 weeks to heal a severe sprain.
After treating your sprain with the PRICE method, you'll need to build back flexibility and strength in your ankle. Perform exercises recommended by your healthcare provider or physical therapist to improve your range of motion.
Physical therapy exercises include:
Early exercises in your treatment plan will not require you to turn or twist your ankle, but over time, you'll be able to get back to regular activities that may require sudden turns (like playing football or basketball).
You should visit your healthcare provider for severe sprain evaluation if you can't walk after an injury and your swelling and pain haven't improved or have gotten worse 24-48 hours after the sprain occurred.
The difference between a high ankle sprain and an ankle sprain depends on the location and ligaments that were injured. Ankle sprains are grouped into two location-based categories:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The first 24-48 hours after an ankle sprain are the most uncomfortable, but symptoms can be relieved with at-home treatment, including icing and elevating the injury to reduce swelling. Rebuilding strength in your ankle after a sprain can help prevent future sprains. Always pay attention to the surfaces you're walking or exercising on to avoid accidental trips and falls that could lead to sprains.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2021.
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