If you have a mild ankle injury, is highly likely you can fully heal it on your own. To do so safely, here are 7 home remedies for an ankle sprain that are both effective and budget-friendly.
Be patient, though – this ankle injury can take weeks to a few months to fully recover. This will depend on the severity of your sprain.
With that said, here are the home remedies for ankle sprains we’ll cover. Tap on any of them to know how to do it:
- RICE therapy
- Pain medications
- Heat therapy
- Improving your diet
- Ankle brace
- Other treatments
- When is it time to go to the doctor?
Or read along to find out which one suits you best.
1. Try the RICE method
This is an effective way to reduce pain and swelling – the most common ankle sprain symptoms. RICE is the mnemonic for four treatment methods combined. They are:
For your ligaments to repair themselves, you must first ease off from strenuous activities. This would mean avoiding anything that involves running, jumping, or wearing high-heeled shoes.
However, they still need some movement to promote healing. So, you can walk on your sprained ankle as long as pain and swelling don’t flare up.
Using ice during the first few days after your ankle sprain can reduce pain and swelling. This is because cold temperatures (1):
- Reduce nerve sensitivity, improving your pain tolerance
- Slow down blood flow, decreasing swelling
You can get these benefits by using an ice pack over your injured ankle joint. Just make sure to place a thin cloth or towel over your skin to prevent skin burns. Apply it for 10 minutes every 2 hours for better results.
This will help: How often should you ice an ankle sprain + hacks
Applying pressure and compression around your ankle helps minimize swelling. You can easily do this with an elastic compression bandage. It’s cheap and conforms to the shape of your foot, especially with a figure-eight wrapping technique.
You can also use the elastic bandage to hold the ice pack in place, transforming it into a more effective cold compression therapy.
Let gravity work for you by placing and keeping your ankle elevated above chest level. This helps remove the fluid buildup around your foot and ankle.
2. Take pain medications
A common example is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They work by lowering inflammation within your body, thus reducing pain levels.
Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen are some common NSAIDs available over the counter. However, check with your doctor if you need a stronger dose to avoid adverse effects.
3. Massage your ankle
With ankle sprains, it’s common for muscles around your joint to stay tense. We call this “muscle guarding” and it’s an immediate protective response from your body to avoid further damage.
It should go away once the ligament starts healing. But ironically, it can cause more pain if it stays longer than it should.
Doing a massage can reduce muscle guarding, soothing the sore tissues around your ankle. It also improves blood flow, which is an important factor for recovery.
Just make sure to avoid massaging directly on the injured ligaments – the direct pressure can cause additional damage.
Learn more: This is what to do if you sprain your ankle
4. Use heat therapy
If after a week or two you’re still having ankle pain, try using heat therapy. Don’t try this during the first days after injury, though.
This is because heat increases blood flow. If you use it during the first days after injury, you can cause more swelling – that’s why you start with ice.
But after a week or two, your ankle pain is likely due to residual muscle tension and stiffness. They respond better to heat instead of cold therapy.
Do this by applying a hot compress over your ankle joint for 20 minutes. Or, if you have a bathtub, go for a warm bath. Both are effective at improving your healing potential and easing your sore muscles.
5. Revamp your diet
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs to function at rest. For young adults, it’s around 25kcal/kg. (3)
However, injuries like a sprained ankle increase your BMR. This is to provide more nutrients to the injured area so your body repairs itself. It can go more than 20% of your normal BMR level, depending on the severity of your injury. (3)
Following these nutritional guidelines will help you recover faster (3):
- Protein: at least 1.6 g/kg/day – the closer to 2-3, the better
- Carbohydrates: 3 to 5 g/kg/day
- Fat: 0.8 to 2 g/kg/day
6. Use an ankle brace
An ankle brace limits any ankle motion outside its normal range. This can be helpful during the first few days after the injury when your ankle is most vulnerable.
Also, most braces have a tight fit. This helps reduce swelling and enhances your ankle awareness.
Overall, an ankle brace is a useful tool during your recovery. And if you’re ever into sports, you can still wear one to lessen the chance of future ankle sprains. (4)
Further reading: How to choose the right ankle brace?
7. Try doing ankle exercises
After a few days from your injury, consider including a healthy dose of ankle exercises into your daily routine.
The focus here is to bring back the stability and functionality of your ankle. The four things that would help you achieve this is by improving your:
- Foot and ankle strength
- Ankle range of motion
- Joint and muscle flexibility
- Lower leg balance and awareness
Each of these should progress from easiest to more challenging exercises. This is important to slowly but surely ease your way back without risking reinjury.
Other treatments for an ankle sprain
Most ankle sprains do well with home remedies – regardless of whether it was a mild or moderate injury.
But, sometimes home treatments may not work out as planned. In that case, it’s best to consult medical professionals for these two treatments:
A physical therapist will help you recover by designing a customized treatment plan. We -physios- do this by assessing the severity of your injury, your lifestyle, and your goals.
This individualization is crucial, as not everyone with a sprained ankle will benefit from the same physical therapy treatment. A personalized rehab program will maximize your healing potential and prevent reinjuries.
Traditional acupuncture works by placing thin needles on spots with a high concentration of energy around your body, known as “acupoints.”
This can release endorphins, which in turn, help you feel less pain and more at ease.
However, if you want to try acupuncture, make sure to do so with a licensed acupuncturist. This guarantees you’ll receive proper treatment.
When is it time to call the doctor?
Here are a few instances when a doctor’s visit is highly recommended:
- Severe ankle pain and swelling.
- Inability to bear weight on your injured leg.
- Misshapen ankle or foot – you may have a broken ankle.
- Severe bony tenderness around your ankle.
- Foot numbness.
- Drastic decrease in muscle strength.
If you go to the doctor, expect a series of physical and imaging tests.
They will help your doctor identify the root cause of your ankle issues to recommend the best medical treatment for you.
If your X-rays show an ankle fracture, it’s highly likely you’ll need surgery and post-operative physical therapy to recover.
Now, for a severe sprain, your doctor may suggest trying rehabilitation first before considering surgery.
How can I relieve ankle pain?
Try RICE therapy, wearing an ankle brace, and/or over-the-counter medications.
Should I use ice or heat for ankle joint pain?
Ice tends to work well during the first week of ankle injuries. Afterward, heat may be a better choice.
Can a sprained ankle heal at home?
If it’s mild or moderate, probably yes. As long as you give it the right amount of rest and movement through exercises.
Conclusion: Home treatments for ankle sprains
Although considered a minor injury, having a sprained ankle is painful and can affect your lifestyle. It may even lead to recurrent sprains.
Fortunately, all these can be managed well by doing different home remedies.
And it doesn’t have to be costly to be considered effective. All you need is consistency and a positive attitude in your recovery process.
- Herrera, Esperanza et al. “Motor and sensory nerve conduction are affected differently by ice pack, ice massage, and cold water immersion.” Physical therapy vol. 90,4 (2010): 581-91. DOI: 10.2522/ptj.20090131
- 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/
- 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
- Gross, Michael T, and Hsin-Yi Liu. “The role of ankle bracing for prevention of ankle sprain injuries.” The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy vol. 33,10 (2003): 572-7. DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2003.33.10.572