Each painful step is a constant reminder that your ankle is injured. But knowing how to heal ankle sprain fast can help you get back to your life quickly.
Yet, keep in mind that all sprained ankles need time to heal. The exact time will depend on the severity of the ankle sprain injury and your overall health. No drug or hack can rush this.
Now, you can create the perfect environment to heal your injured ankle. This is the easiest and most effective way to shorten your recovery time as much as possible.
Do this by following these 8 hacks. Our physical therapist explains each one, click on any of them to learn how to do it:
- Rest for a few days
- Do the RICE protocol
- Wear an ankle brace
- Take medications
- Try these natural alternatives
- Walk to tolerance
- Get more sleep
- Try physical therapy
1) Take it easy for the first few days
As you already know, an ankle sprain occurs when your ankle rolls past its limit. The initial reaction of your body is to send pain signals and swell up.
This means that your body is starting to repair itself while also avoiding further injury. These symptoms can keep cycling back if you disrupt your body’s natural healing process.
So, it’s key to scale down on strenuous activities for several days.
Anything that puts your ankle in a vulnerable position should be avoided for now. This includes jumping, running, and wearing worn-out shoes or high heels.
In the meantime, your go-to remedy is doing range of motion exercises, like ankle circles. They will speed up healing and reduce pain with acute ankle sprains. (1)
This will help: 12 exercises for a full ankle sprain recovery
2) RICE away your ankle sprain
Pain and swelling will eventually subside as you go along your recovery. But too much of it can be a hassle to deal with.
So, to make your symptoms more tolerable, follow the RICE protocol. This is an acronym that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Doing this protocol after an ankle sprain would look like this:
- Rest is a must during the first week.
- Place an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables over your ankle to help with swelling and temporarily decrease pain.
- Apply compression by wrapping it with an elastic bandage to also reduce swelling.
- Top it off by keeping your ankle elevated above chest level to reduce inflammation, too.
This treatment works best during the first 5-7 days after an injury, when your symptoms are ramping up.
Do it right: How to ice your sprained ankle properly
3) Support your ankle joint
The specific strategies for healing a sprained ankle will depend on the severity. There are 3 grades of ankle sprains, where the last two involve a moderate to severe compromise to the ankle ligaments.
Due to this, these types of sprains often compromise your foot and ankle stability. An ankle brace can provide the extra support you need to keep your sprained ankle steady.
This will also promote healing, protect your ankle joint, and prevent the injury from getting worse.
Now, there are different types of ankle braces to choose from.
But most of them work in a similar fashion – they limit your ankle mobility. Some types also help reduce swelling by compression. (1)
However, remember that this isn’t meant to be a permanent fix. A brace will support your recovery process, but you’ll still need to strengthen your ankle.
4) Manage your symptoms with pain medication
If you want fast-acting pain relief, then you might want to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Common examples are ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.
This type of medication helps with pain relief and inflammation by preventing the formation of certain hormones. (2) They will partially inhibit your body’s natural inflammatory response.
You should strictly follow the guidelines on each drug label if you are planning to buy them over-the-counter.
Now, if you find yourself taking pain pills often, please seek medical attention. Your ankle may have a serious injury that should be checked by a professional.
5) Try using alternative options
If you prefer to stay away from pharmacological substances for any reason, there are alternative options you can try. These may also help with pain and swelling without the side effects of these drugs.
One is turmeric, a spice that you can add to your dishes. Research shows it has anti-inflammatory properties that promote healing. (3)
Another option is mixing Epsom salts into your warm bath – these can help soothe sore muscles (4) However, heat can increase inflammation. So, better try this one at least a week after the injury to prevent swelling.
6) Don’t be afraid to walk on your sprained ankle
Your ankle will have a hard time healing properly if you just lay in bed all day. It needs the right amount of stress to safely build back its strength. (5)
A simple and effective way to do this is by walking. Start with a predetermined time or distance and listen to your body as you do so. Increase the time and distance every other day.
To do it safely, look for that sweet spot where the pain level is close to zero and your symptoms don’t increase afterward – that will be your limit.
Learn more: When is it ok to walk with a sprained ankle?
7) Get more sleep
Aside from making you feel well-rested, sleep influences the release of human growth hormone (HGH). HGH is responsible for promoting the healing and recovery of your injured tissues. (6)
This makes sleep the best form of passive recovery from any injury. So much so, that research shows that for every 2 hours of sleep, there’s a surge in HGH release. (7)
So if you’re not getting 7 or more hours of shut-eye per night, here are a few things that can help (8, 9):
- Try to stick with a regular sleep schedule.
- Keep your room temperature at around 18°C/ 65°F.
- Avoid taking naps during the day.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages after 2 pm.
This will help: How to sleep with an injured ankle?
8) Give physical therapy a try
Whether your sprain is mild or severe, your physical therapist will have you covered. We are healthcare professionals who design individual treatment plans for ankle injuries, regardless of their severity.
During your initial visit, expect your PT to assess the joints and motions of your lower leg. This will help them identify issues that may prevent your sprained ankle from healing properly.
Then, your PT will design a treatment based on your goals, lifestyle, and the characteristics of your injury.
Pro tip: There are different specialties in physical therapy – pediatric, neurologic, geriatric, sports… Choose a therapist that suits your health and lifestyle needs.
How long does it take for ankle sprains to fully heal?
It depends on the type and degree of an ankle sprain. Mild sprains can take a few weeks, while severe ones may need at least 3 months to heal.
What is RICE treatment for ankle sprain?
RICE is an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This is an anti-inflammatory and pain management protocol for fresh injuries.
Should I use RICE for my sprained ankle?
Absolutely! It is both an effective and efficient way to reduce inflammation and swelling after an ankle injury.
Conclusion: How to treat an ankle sprain?
The secret to fast injury recovery is to take control of your health from day one. And as you have learned, the best way to treat your sprained ankle quickly is by combining several methods.
These 8 tips are simple, effective, and increase your chance to heal much sooner. Pick and choose whichever suits where you are right now in your recovery.
- Tiemstra, Jeffrey MD. “Update on Acute Ankle Sprains”. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Jun 15;85(12):1170-1176. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0615/p1170.html
- 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/
- Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
- Gröber, Uwe et al. “Myth or Reality-Transdermal Magnesium?.” Nutrients vol. 9,8 813. 28 Jul. 2017, doi: 10.3390/nu9080813
- Maggs, Kevin. “Load vs Capacity: the good and the debatable”. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 19 June 2019. https://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2019/06/19/load-vs-capacity-the-good-and-the-debatable/
- Stull, Kyle. “The Importance of Sleep And Recovery”. National Academy of Sports Medicine. https://blog.nasm.org/exercise-programming/the-importance-of-sleep-and-recovery
- 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
- “Are You Getting Enough Sleep?”. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/getting-enough-sleep.html
- “Matthew Walker: Why Is It Essential To Make Time For Sleep?”. National Public Radio. 5 February 2021. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/964209001