An ankle sprain can happen to anyone at any age. Walking on an uneven surface or even wearing inappropriate foot wear can cause this type of injury. Many times a sprain occurs when the foot suddenly twists or rolls, forcing the ankle joint out of its normal position. This movement can stretch or tear the ligaments that hold the ankle bones and joints together.
If you have recently injured your ankle and are noticing the following symptoms you may have a sprained ankle:
- inability to put weight on the affected ankle
- skin discoloration
The ankle can sustain many different types of injuries. It’s important to see your doctor when you’re experiencing problems with your ankle as they can determine whether the injury is a sprain or something more severe. Your physician will perform a physical exam to determine if ligaments have been torn. During the exam, your doctor may move your ankle joint in various ways to check your range of motion.
Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may also be ordered to rule out a bone fracture. An MRI may be done if your doctor suspects a fracture, a serious injury to the ligaments, or damage to the surface of the ankle joint allowing your physician to make the proper diagnosis.
Your doctor may tell you to stay off of your injured ankle until the pain subsides. For mild sprains, this may take a week to 10 days, while more severe sprains may take up to several weeks to heal
Treating a sprained ankle promotes recovery and prevents further discomfort. You may be able to treat mild sprains at home.
Recommended home care treatments include:
- using elastic bandages (such as an ACE bandage) to wrap your ankle, but not too tightly
- wearing a brace to support your ankle
- using crutches, if needed
- elevating your foot with pillows as necessary to reduce swelling
- taking ibuprofen (such as Advil) or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) to manage pain
- getting plenty of rest and not putting weight on your ankle
It’s also helpful to apply ice to the injured area as soon as you can to reduce swelling. On the first day, you should apply ice every 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times per day. Afterward, apply ice every three to four hours for the next two days.
Surgery for a sprained ankle is rare. It may be performed when the damage to the ligaments is severe and there is evidence of instability, or when the injury doesn’t improve with nonsurgical treatment.
In most cases, an ankle sprain isn’t very serious and will completely heal with proper treatment. The amount of time required for a full recovery will depend on the severity of the sprain. Most ankle sprains take a few weeks to fully heal. A more severe sprain may take months.
Although pain and swelling will eventually go away, your injured ankle may not be as stable as your unaffected ankle. Your doctor may suggest certain exercises to help strengthen the muscle about the ankle. However, you shouldn’t proceed with exercises until your doctor has told you to do so.