Better Rehabilitation, Faster Recovery

Understanding Ankle Sprain & How to Treat It

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 graded I, II, or III depending on the severity:

  • Grade I sprain: pain with minimal damage to the ligaments.
  • Grade II sprain: more ligament damage and mild looseness of the joint.
  • Grade III sprain: complete tearing of the ligament and the joint is very loose or unstable.

Sometimes sprains are just classified as mild or severe, depending on the amount of ligament damage.
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).


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How does it occur?

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

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose a sprained ankle, your healthcare provider will review how the injury occurred and consider your symptoms. An x-rays may be needed to fully assess your ankle.

What are the symptoms?
  • Mild aching to sudden pain
  • Swelling & Discoloration
  • Inability to move the ankle properly
  • Pain in the ankle even when not used

How is it treated?

  • Applying ice packs to your ankle for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for the first 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. Thereafter, ice your ankle at least once a day until the other symptoms are gone.
  • Elevating your ankle by placing a pillow underneath your foot. Try to keep your ankle above the level of your heart.
  • Wrapping an elastic bandage around your ankle to keep the swelling from getting worse.
  • Wearing a lace-up brace or ankle stirrup (an Aircast or Gel cast).
  • Using crutches until you can walk without pain.
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, or other pain medication prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Doing ankle exercises to improve your ankle strength and range of motion. The exercises will help you return to your normal activity faster. You can see exercises for ankle sprain here.

When can I return to my sport or activity?

Return to your sport or activity will be determined by how soon your ankle recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred. You may safely return to your sport or activity when all 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 jog straight ahead without pain or limping.
  • You can jump on both legs without pain and you can jump on the injured leg without pain.
How can I prevent an ankle sprain?

To help prevent an ankle sprain follow these guidelines:

  • 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 Rehabilitation Exercises

Time to Completion: 10 minutes. You can do these exercises right away.

Exercise 1: Towel Stretch - Repeat 10 times
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  1. 1

    Sit on a hard surface with one or both legs stretched out in front of you. Loop a towel around your toes and the ball of your foot.

  2. 2

    Loop a towel around the ball of your foot and pull the towel toward your body keeping you knee straight. Hold for 15 seconds.

  3. 3

    Relax, then repeat.


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