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Ankle Sprains


What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain can happen when you twist your ankle. The ligaments that support the ankle can get stretched and torn. Often the ankle is swollen and painful.

Ankle sprains may take from several weeks to several months to heal. Usually, the more pain and swelling you have, the more severe your ankle sprain is and the longer it will take to heal. You can heal faster and regain strength in your ankle with good home treatment.

It is very important to give your ankle time to heal completely, so that you do not easily hurt your ankle again.

How is an ankle sprain treated?

Early treatment for an ankle sprain is called the RICE approach:

  • Rest. You may need to use crutches until walking isn't painful without them.
  • Ice. Put ice or a cold pack on your ankle for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Compression. An elastic compression wrap will help decrease swelling. Wear it for the first 24 to 36 hours. A protective brace should also be worn if you try to bear weight on your injured ankle. Don't apply the wrap too tightly. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the area below the bandage. Compression wraps don't protect your ankle, but they do remind you to be careful of your ankle.
  • Elevation. Raise your ankle above the level of your heart for 2 to 3 hours a day if you can. This can decrease swelling and bruising.

For pain, you can try an over-the-counter medicine like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

It may help to wear hiking boots or other high-top, lace-up shoes for support. But be careful. Don't force your foot into a boot if you feel a lot of pain or discomfort. For severe sprains, you can try a splint or brace.

Your doctor may suggest that you keep some or all of your weight off your ankle as it heals. If so, learn to use your crutches or your walker properly and safely.

After the early swelling and pain decrease, rehab exercises can help to make sure your ankle heals right, prevent reinjury, and avoid ongoing problems.

Almost all ankle sprains heal on their own with proper home treatment and rehab exercises.

Surgery to repair torn ligaments is usually only considered when there is a severe ligament tear (or tears) or if the ankle is still unstable after rehab. Surgery may also be an option if you have broken a bone.

What is a severe ankle sprain?

A severe ankle sprain is a complete tear of one of the ligaments that connect the bones in the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Sudden force, twisting of the ankle or a dislocated or broken bone can cause the ligament to tear. A tear can cause swelling, pain, bruising, and loss of strength and movement. Your ankle may feel wobbly.

The most commonly torn ligaments are the ones on the outside of the ankle that connect your outer leg bone (fibula) to the bones of your foot.

Ankle sprain: when to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain is getting worse.
  • Your swelling is getting worse.
  • Your splint feels too tight or you are unable to loosen it.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better after 1 week.
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