Ankle Sprain Treatment Options (According To Injury Severity)

Written by on June 15, 2022 — Medically reviewed by Mitch Torres (PT)

The best ankle sprain treatment will depend on the characteristics of your injury. Like how severe it is, when it happened, or your goals.

For example, a mild sprain does well with rest, ice, and massage. But a severe sprain may need surgery or help from a physical therapist to get better.

I know it can be overwhelming, but don’t worry. Here are all the treatments available for ankle sprains, depending on the severity. These are the topics covered below, tap on the one that matches your injury to go straight to that section:

3 Best treatments for mild sprains

Grade I ankle sprains often come with mild bruising and little pain, as well as some swelling. You’re still able to walk, though.

Fortunately, you can manage this injury at home with these treatments (1):

1) POLICE therapy

This is an acronym for:

Protection

This means protecting your healing ankle from further injury. Using an ankle brace or an elastic bandage are some great examples you can do to achieve this.

Optimal loading

Research shows that early mobilization with the right activity intensity stimulates healing. (2)

So once your pain permits, you can start doing light exercises like walking. This is a great way for your ankle joint to start moving and promote recovery.

Ice, Compression, Elevation

These three methods alleviate both pain and swelling. They work by temporarily increasing your pain tolerance while also draining the excess fluid from your affected foot. (3)

Related: How often should you put ice on your ankle sprain?

2) Wear a compression sleeve

This is the most flexible type of ankle brace. Wearing one might provide you with the right amount of protection and compression, without feeling too restrictive in your movement.

As a result, you’ll be able to do your daily activities with minimal pain and swelling. It’s also a great way to complement your POLICE therapy.

3) Massaging your lower leg

Massage is a great and accessible recovery tool. It not only improves your blood flow and range of motion but also effectively reduces swelling around your ankle. (4)

As long as you can tolerate some pressure on your foot and ankle, try doing a gentle massage.

7 Best treatments for moderate ankle sprains

A sizeable amount of pain, swelling, and a bit of instability are a few characteristics of a grade II ankle sprain. (5)

Most often get better after a few weeks, but here are some remedies to fast-track your recovery:

1) POLICE therapy

Yes, this is the same one in mild sprains. This is because research shows that doing it early on promotes faster healing, compared to just keeping your ankle still. (6)

But if you have a hard time doing the “optimal loading” part due to some ankle instability, try wearing an ankle brace or using crutches. Aside from added stability, they’ll aid in temporarily taking some pressure off your foot.

More tips: Best home remedies for ankle sprains.

2) Use a soft ankle brace

A brace could help restabilize your ankle, as well as limit excess movement. This can allow you to walk without the risk of reinjury.

Pro tip: If your ankle is swollen, look for a brace with an adjustable fit. A lace-up or strap ankle brace are great options.

3) Learn how to tape your ankle

Taping allows you to easily adjust its fit to the shape and contours of your foot and ankle. This is the perfect solution if you can’t seem to find a brace that you are comfortable with.

You can also use different types of materials, from rigid tapes to flexible ones like Kinesiotape. Each one has varying levels of support that you can pair with the right taping technique.

Know more: Instructions for taping your sprained ankle.

4) Take pain medications

If the pain starts to bother you, try taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They offer short-term relief by blocking enzymes responsible for causing pain and inflammation. (7)

Some common examples include ibuprofen and naproxen.

5) Do ankle exercises

These are specialized exercises that can help regain your strength, stability, and mobility. They can make you less likely to suffer future ankle sprains as well. (8)

You can start doing them if your pain level is close to zero. But if it flares up during or after exercises, you may be overdoing it. That’s also a sign that it may be time to have a physical therapy session.

Check this out: 12 physio-approved exercises for ankle sprains.

6) Go to a physical therapy clinic

Physical therapists are medical professionals trained to rehabilitate musculoskeletal injuries, including all types of ankle sprains.

We create a tailored treatment plan based on what you need to recover quickly. So for a moderate sprain, this usually includes:

  • Cold and electrotherapy to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Improve your ankle’s function with physical therapy exercises.
  • Teach you strategies to continue your recovery at home.

This is the best choice of treatment if your ankle sprain isn’t getting better at home, or if you want to speed up your recovery.

Further reading: Physical therapy for a sprained ankle.

7) Get enough rest

The best amount of sleep varies from person to person. But for adults, research shows you should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. (9)

The reason is that sleep allows your body to release hormones that stimulate healing and recovery. (10)

Getting any less of the recommended hours may not only leave you with less energy throughout the day, but it might also delay your return to health.

Expand: How to sleep with an ankle sprain?

5 Best treatments for severe ankle sprains

An audible snap followed by severe pain and swelling is a tell-tale symptom of a severe ankle sprain. (11)

These are grade III injuries, and the bad news is that they often take months to heal. It’s highly advisable to go to your doctor first to rule out a fracture.

Some of the treatments your doctor could recommend include:

1) RICE therapy

This is an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Doing these 4 treatments, especially in the first week of your injury, can ease both pain and swelling. (3)

RICE might be better than POLICE therapy for now, due to how badly you injured your foot. Loading it before it’s ready can worsen your sprain.

2) Take your medications

There are over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications to help ease your severe pain. If they aren’t enough, then you might need prescription painkillers.

These are usually stronger than OTC drugs. Your doctor might also set strict rules you should follow, like when you should take the drug, to avoid side effects.

3) Wear a rigid ankle brace

A rigid type of brace might suit you well for your severe sprain. (11) They usually offer the highest level of support you can ask for in these garments, keeping your ankle steady and well-protected.

A few examples include a walking boot or a hybrid brace.

Related: Top walking boots for a sprained ankle.

4) Physical therapy

As the worst type of ankle sprain, your physio will likely spend some time with pain-reducing techniques initially. This involves hands-on techniques, electrotherapy, and cold therapy, to name a few.

Afterward, your therapist will give you a set of therapeutic exercises once you are more comfortable moving your ankle. They could potentially prevent repeated ankle sprains, apart from enhancing your recovery.

5) Surgery

Evidence suggests that this isn’t always necessary, not even in grade III sprains. This is because it may not help prevent complications, reduce costs, or minimize risks compared to conservative options. (11)

With that said, some patients do benefit from this. It can fix other issues that could come along with your sprain such as (11):

  • Unstable ankle fractures.
  • Tendon tears.
  • Cartilage lesions.

2 Best treatments for chronic ankle sprains

You fall under this type if you are still experiencing pain or repeat sprains +12 months since your initial injury. Medically, we call this condition chronic ankle instability. (8)

At this point, you should consider medical treatments such as:

1) Physical therapy

One cause of your chronic injury is that your initial sprain might not have healed the right way. So as movement experts, we can promote proper healing.

We do so by identifying any lingering issues that may be causing your chronic symptoms. Poor balance and muscle strength are potential culprits. (12)

Your PT could then give you proper progressive strengthening and balance drills to address such issues.

2) Surgery

You should consider surgery if you have failed to improve after 3 to 6 months of physical therapy. In this instance, surgical treatments can help stabilize your ankle and prevent complications such as arthritis. (13)

Some of the most common surgical procedures include:

Lateral ankle ligament reconstruction

This procedure starts with a skin incision to properly assess the ligament injury. Afterward, your orthopaedic surgeon will stitch and tighten both injured ends, restoring the function of your ligaments.

Non-anatomic reconstruction

Here, your surgeon uses a graft from your tendon to replace the position and function of your ankle ligament. Doctors could use this procedure if the damaged ligament is beyond repair or just plain absent. (13)

FAQs

How long does it take for a sprained ankle to heal?

This depends on how bad the sprain is. It can range from days to months.

Related: How to recover from an ankle sprain fast?

Is it OK to walk on a sprained ankle?

Yes, as long as you can bear weight on your injured foot. In fact, ankle sprains heal faster with weight-bearing exercises rather than placing them on a cast. (6)

More info: Should you walk on your ankle sprain?

Can an injured ankle heal in 3 days?

Yes, but it might only be possible for mild sprains. Moderate to severe sprains could take weeks to recover from.

Conclusion: What is the treatment for an ankle sprain?

Each type of ankle sprain requires different sets of treatment. So, you should know beforehand the severity of your injury to know which treatment options are best for your case.

This includes home remedies, physical therapy, and sometimes, surgical repair. Some can help with symptoms while others rehabilitate, repair, and even prevent ankle sprains.

Resources

  1. Melanson SW, Shuman VL. Acute Ankle Sprain. [Updated 2022 May 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459212/
  2. Dhillon, Himmat et al. “Current Concepts in Sports Injury Rehabilitation.” Indian journal of orthopaedics vol. 51,5 (2017): 529-536. doi: 10.4103/ortho.IJOrtho_226_17
  3. van den Bekerom, Michel P J et al. “What is the evidence for rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy in the treatment of ankle sprains in adults?.” Journal of athletic training vol. 47,4 (2012): 435-43. DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-47.4.14
  4. Stanek, Justin et al. “Comparison of Compressive Myofascial Release and the Graston Technique for Improving Ankle-Dorsiflexion Range of Motion.” Journal of athletic training vol. 53,2 (2018): 160-167. DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-386-16
  5. Cavazos GJ Jr., Harkless LB. The epidemiology, evaluation, and assessment of lateral ankle sprains in athletes. J Sports Med Ther. 2021; 6: 008-017. DOI: 10.29328/journal.jsmt.1001052
  6. Bleakley, C M et al. “PRICE needs updating, should we call the POLICE?.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 46,4 (2012): 220-1. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2011-090297
  7. Ghlichloo I, Gerriets V. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547742/
  8. Hertel, Jay, and Revay O Corbett. “An Updated Model of Chronic Ankle Instability.” Journal of athletic training vol. 54,6 (2019): 572-588. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-344-18
  9. “Are you getting enough sleep?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 8 April 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/getting-enough-sleep.html
  10. Morris, Christopher J et al. “Circadian system, sleep and endocrinology.” Molecular and cellular endocrinology vol. 349,1 (2012): 91-104. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2011.09.003
  11. Al-Mohrej, Omar A, and Nader S Al-Kenani. “Acute ankle sprain: conservative or surgical approach?.” EFORT open reviews vol. 1,2 34-44. 13 Mar. 2017, doi: 10.1302/2058-5241.1.000010
  12. Willems, Tine et al. “Proprioception and Muscle Strength in Subjects With a History of Ankle Sprains and Chronic Instability.” Journal of athletic training vol. 37,4 (2002): 487-493. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164382/.
  13. Camacho, Luis D et al. “Surgical Management of Lateral Ankle Instability in Athletes.” Journal of athletic training vol. 54,6 (2019): 639-649. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-348-18

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