Everything You Need to Know to Treat a Sprained Ankle

In Diagnosis & Treatment by Dr. Clinton Osborn

Ankle sprains (or rolled ankles) are very common, especially for sports enthusiasts. If you haven’t already had a sprained ankle, chances are, you will sprain your ankle at least once in your lifetime, whether you play sports or not. 

Being such a common problem, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you answer some very important questions. We’ll answer what a sprained ankle versus a broken ankle is, how to treat a sprained ankle, how to wrap a sprained ankle, what exercises can you do to strengthen a sprained ankle, what the healing process is like, and what to do if swelling doesn’t go down.

Below is our comprehensive guide to ankle sprains.

Sprained vs Broken Ankle

treating sprained ankle

When you injure your ankle, one of the first things you need to know is, how bad is it? Often, to ensure that it is not broken, an X-Ray is required. This will show whether your ankle is sprained or broken. This is a very important difference. A sprained ankle is, in many cases, treatable from home without the need of additional medical attention. A broken ankle is more severe and medical treatment is needed.

Ankle Sprain:

Commonly referred to as a rolled ankle, ankle sprains are a result of the ankle twisting, rolling or turning in an unnatural and awkward way. Ankle sprains are often a result of a sports injury while playing soccer, basketball, football, volleyball or just about any other sport. However, many people roll their ankle by simply walking down the street or by stepping on an uneven surface. Women in high heels are especially susceptible to rolled ankles!

Sprained ankles cause the ligaments in your ankle to become stretched, or depending on how bad it is, the ligaments can tear. In order to stabilize your ankle properly, those ligaments in and around the ankle need to remain strong. Rolled ankles cause a weakening of those ligaments. Did you know that after an ankle sprain, you are more likely to roll your ankle again? That’s right. Since your ligaments become stretched and are not as strong, future ankle sprains are more likely to happen. But you can lower that risk if you take proper care of your sprained ankle and strengthen those muscles and ligaments.

Broken (or Fractured) Ankle:

More severe than a sprained ankle, a broken ankle can often be overlooked as an ankle sprain. While a broken ankle can include stretched, weakened, or torn ligaments, a broken ankle also includes a break (or fracture) of the bone. There are varying levels of severity ranging from a slight crack to a full break. In the case of a broken ankle, you should seek medical attention immediately.

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Treating a sprained ankle

x ray of ankle

Depending on the severity of the sprain, treating a sprained ankle can generally be done without additional medical intervention. However, to know the severity of the sprain, an X-Ray of the injured ankle is recommended. To reduce the pain associated with a sprained ankle and to assist with swelling, Ibuprofen or another pain reliever/anti-inflammatory can be taken. Also, for the first 12 – 24 hours the ankle should be elevated and treated with a rotation of ice and heat (15 minutes each). This rotation will reduce swelling and increase blood flow to the injured ankle. After the initial 24 hours, you should keep weight off the injured ankle. Generally, it is also recommended that the ankle be wrapped in order to immobilize it and to allow the ligaments to heal. Depending on the severity, wrapping the ankle and keeping your weight off the ankle is suggested for between one and four weeks.

How to wrap a sprained ankle

wrap sprained ankle

Wrapping your sprained ankle is a good way to prevent further injury and to promote the healing and strengthening of the ankle ligaments. Check out this video to see how to properly wrap a sprained ankle.

Exercises you can do for a sprained ankle

ice for sprained ankle

After you roll your ankle, your ligaments are weakened and stretched, making it easier to reinjure your ankle. Through proper treatment, the ligaments will repair themselves, however, they will be weaker than they once were. While there are a number of exercises that you can do in order to strengthen your injured ankle, we’ve addressed several good exercises in the following video.

The healing process for a sprained ankle

healing ankle

Time and proper care are two of the most important factors in promoting the healing process of an ankle sprain. For the best results, in the first 24 hours you should keep the ankle elevated, rotate ice and heat (approximately every 15 – 20 minutes), and take medication to reduce pain and inflammation. This regimen of treatment will increase blood flow to the ankle while reducing swelling. With this treatment, the ankle will begin the long process of repairing the damaged ligaments.

Wrapping the ankle will continue to promote healing by limiting the amount of movement and strain on the ankle. Limiting the amount of movement will further promote the repair of the injured ankle ligaments. This treatment should be followed for approximately one to four weeks after the initial injury.

The final stage of the healing process is to strengthen the ankle muscles and ligaments. Through proper exercise and care, the injured ankle will gain the strength that it once had.

What to do if the swelling won’t go down

If swelling in the ankle does not show signs of improvement within 48 hours of injury, you should seek medical treatment. Swelling is the body’s natural way to immobilize the injured area and is often an indication of severity. If the ankle is not improving, your body will naturally try to keep it immobilized or swollen. In a case where swelling does not improve, you should seek medical treatment, including an X-Ray to show the severity of the sprain or find out if it’s broken.

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