This type of sprain usually takes 2 to 6 months to recover from – which can be a lifetime to some. (1) Fortunately, there are several high ankle sprain treatment methods you can try to help you recover faster.
High ankle sprains tend to occur after forcefully twisting a planted foot outwards. They take longer to recover, compared to a traditional ankle sprain. This is likely because of the associated risk of ankle fractures. (2, 3)
We took that into account to give you this evidence-based list of non-surgical and surgical methods available. Here’s what we’ll cover – tap on any of these to easily navigate through the content:
- 7 treatments for high ankle sprains
- 3 Factors that delay your recovery time
- 3 Things to boost your recovery
7 effective treatments for high ankle sprains
1) Use the PRICE protocol
The PRICE protocol combines five treatment principles to help ease your post-injury symptoms for the first 4 to 5 days (4):
- Protection, to prevent unnecessary stress and further injury to your ankle joint.
- Rest, to allow time for your injured ankle to recuperate.
- Ice, to temporarily reduce pain sensitivity and swelling.
- Compression, to squeeze excess fluid build-up around your ankle joint.
- Elevation, to use gravity as a natural way of reducing inflammation.
This 4 to 5-day timeframe will probably be longer if you have a severe high ankle sprain, though.
This will help: How often should you ice your ankle sprain?
2) Take anti-inflammatory medications
There can be moments when pain can be so intense that you just want quick relief. Pain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help you with that.
There are tons of NSAIDs available in the market. If you can’t decide which medication is safe and best for you, consult your doctor.
Related: The 5 symptoms of high ankle sprains.
3) Wear an ankle brace
If you need more support around your ankle, you should try wearing an ankle brace. You can also use this device to slowly transition your body after being in a walking boot for some time. (1)
The two types of brace that are helpful for a high ankle sprain are (1):
- A stirrup brace. Usually available online and over-the-counter.
- A custom short articulating ankle-foot orthosis. You may need to consult an orthotist for this one.
You can use either as a temporary solution while you regain your ankle function. If you’re not sure which one will be best for your injury, please consult with your doctor or physical therapist.
4) Tape your ankle joint
If an ankle brace is too uncomfortable for you, you can always tape your ankle. There are 3 types of taping materials commonly used for a high ankle sprain:
- Elastic bandage. A flexible piece of cloth that helps in providing compression and swelling reduction.
- Athletic taping. A rigid tape that is built to add support and limit pain-provoking motions.
- Kinesio taping. A stretchy, adhesive tape that enhances your ankle awareness.
Learn how: Tape your ankle in 8 steps.
5) Do ankle-specific exercises
Rest and immobilization are initially important to let your high ankle sprain heal properly. But one downside is that it can lead to weakness and tightness around your ankle joint.
Exercises play a key role in reversing this trend. They also provide the necessary stimulus to promote healing, so your ligament adapts and gets stronger. (7)
This will help: 12 exercises to recover from your ankle sprain.
6) Go to physical therapy
Regardless of how severe your high ankle sprain is, physical therapy can help you recover.
For a mild high ankle sprain, symptom relief may be the top priority. Your physical therapist (PT) may use a combination of manual and thermotherapy to help you get over the hump.
But for moderate to severe cases who went to surgery, your PT will aid your transition from being in a cast to walking on your feet safely.
7) Surgery for high ankle sprains
Surgery can be considered to repair any broken or unstable ankle bones. (1)
Your surgeon will probably use a few surgical screws and plates to keep your ankle stable and to promote bone healing. Afterward, you may be referred to physical therapy to slowly gain control of your surgically repaired ankle.
3 Factors that can delay your recovery time
1) Irregular visits with your physical therapist
You and your PT will work as a team to help you recover on time.
But the more you miss out on your scheduled appointments, the harder it will be for your PT to adapt the treatment to your needs.
If you’re having a hard time following up with your rehabilitation, discuss it with your therapist. Remember that we’re here to help you!
2) Returning to your previous activities too early
As high ankle sprains usually affect athletes, it can be tough to sit out or limit your sports activities for quite some time.
But there are certain benchmarks you have to clear first before you go back to the field. This process requires your patience to avoid setbacks or reinjuring yourself.
3) Cigarette smoking
Research shows that cigarette smoking can delay bone healing and reduce the success rate of your surgery. (8)
Here are a few ways to help quit smoking:
- List down your triggers to smoking and try to avoid them.
- Meditate regularly.
- Look for online support – there are several apps, websites, and associations with strategies to help you quit for good.
3 Things that can boost your recovery
1) Consistently doing your home exercise programs
Home exercise programs (HEPs) are drills or instructions typically given after every physical therapy session.
Doing your HEPs as instructed by your PT helps you in maintaining or achieving therapeutic gains. This can also bridge the gap between each PT session, so you can recover faster.
2) Get a good amount of sleep
While you sleep, your body releases a vital hormone called human growth hormone (HGH) every 2 hours. (9)
HGH is responsible for promoting healing and recovery, making sleep an important natural supplement for your ankle injury.
The recommended amount of sleep changes based on your age. For example, the CDC recommends at least 7 hours of rest per night for people between 18 to 60 years old. (9)
This can help: Tips for sleeping with an ankle sprain.
3) Eat better
You may not notice it, but you use more calories than usual when you are injured. This is to support your body’s healing response from your injury. (10)
To keep up with this sudden surge, the quality of food you eat might play a big part in your recovery.
Some recommendations for good food choices are (10):
- Eat enough protein – good options include chicken, fish, and turkey, or seitan and tofu if you’re vegan.
- Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy for carbohydrates.
- Avocado, olive oil, fish, flax, nuts, and seeds for your fatty acid needs.
What is the fastest way to heal a high ankle sprain?
Use PRICE therapy right after the injury to fast-track your recovery.
How long does it take to recover from a high ankle sprain?
Research shows it can take two to six months of physical therapy for a high ankle sprain to recover. (1)
Is walking good for a high ankle sprain?
Yes, but this depends on how well your ankle feels. If it’s still too painful to put some weight on or if your ankle is swollen, take a few more days of rest.
Conclusion: How to heal a high ankle sprain?
Treatment for high ankle sprains takes time and also depends on the severity of your injury. Get your high ankle sprain diagnosed first by a doctor to know which remedy will be best for your specific case.
If there is no fracture or instability, try nonsurgical care like the PRICE method, bracing/taping your ankle, exercises, and physical therapy.
However, surgery and post-op therapy may be needed to fix any broken bone or structural problems.
- Porter, David A et al. “Optimal management of ankle syndesmosis injuries.” Open access journal of sports medicine vol. 5 173-82. 5 Aug. 2014, doi: 10.2147/OAJSM.S41564
- Dubin, Joshua C et al. “Lateral and syndesmotic ankle sprain injuries: a narrative literature review.” Journal of chiropractic medicine vol. 10,3 (2011): 204-19. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2011.02.001
- Chinn, Lisa, and Jay Hertel. “Rehabilitation of ankle and foot injuries in athletes.” Clinics in sports medicine vol. 29,1 (2010): 157-67, table of contents. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2009.09.006
- 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
- Ghlichloo I, Gerriets V. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) [Updated 2021 May 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547742
- Struijs, Peter A A, and Gino M M J Kerkhoffs. “Ankle sprain: the effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” BMJ clinical evidence vol. 2015 1115. 28 Jul. 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26218749/
- Mattacola, Carl G, and Maureen K Dwyer. “Rehabilitation of the Ankle After Acute Sprain or Chronic Instability.” Journal of athletic training vol. 37,4 (2002): 413-429. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164373/
- Beahrs TR, Reagan J, Bettin CC, Grear BJ, Murphy GA, Richardson DR. Smoking Effects in Foot and Ankle Surgery: An Evidence-Based Review. Foot Ankle Int. 2019 Oct;40(10):1226-1232. DOI: 10.1177/1071100719867942
- “Are You Getting Enough Sleep?”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 21 April 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/getting-enough-sleep.html
- Smith-Ryan, Abbie E et al. “Nutritional Considerations and Strategies to Facilitate Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation.” Journal of athletic training vol. 55,9 (2020): 918-930. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-550-19