What Does An Ankle Sprain Feel Like? | 3 Key Signs To Look For

Written by on March 23, 2022 — Medically reviewed by Mich Torres (PT)

If you recently rolled or fell awkwardly on your foot, chances are you might have a sprain – one of the most common ankle injuries. But just to be sure – what does an ankle sprain feel like?

Well, most times, there’s a popping sound right when the sprained ankle occurs. You’ll likely feel pain on certain parts of your ankle joint, which can make walking difficult.

It’s key to tell if it’s a broken ankle or not – that will determine the next steps. But don’t worry, we’ll cover that, too. Here are the topics you’ll find below – tap on any of them to get to the answer:

What does a sprained ankle feel like?

1. A popping sound at the time of the injury

Most ankle sprains happen with a popping sound, which indicates you may have torn a ligament. The severity of the damage often depends on how badly you rolled your ankle.

Yet, if the sprain was mild, there may not be an audible pop. This is because your ligaments stretched to their limit but didn’t tear.

Further reading: All you need to know about ankle sprains

2. Specific location of ankle pain and swelling

With ankle sprains, three major ligaments are usually affected. They are located in the inner, outer, and front areas of your ankle.

If you did sprain your ankle, you’ll have ankle pain and swelling in one or more of those three locations. But for 85% of sprains, this will occur on the outer ankle. (1)

Learn more: Common types of ankle sprains

3. Noticeable limp when you walk

As you bear weight on your foot, you are putting more pressure on your already injured ankle. Limping is your body’s way to slightly take the pressure off your affected foot to avoid more injury.

Related: When is it safe to walk with an ankle sprain?

How do you know if it’s an ankle fracture?

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS), the main symptoms of a broken bone in your ankle include (2):

  • Severe pain at the site, which can extend to the foot and/or knee
  • Swelling and bruising around the fractured ankle bone
  • Limping – you may be able to walk with less severe fractures
  • There’s a visual deformity on the area

Learn more: How to tell if you have a broken ankle or a sprain?

If you have any of the above, please seek medical attention.

An X-ray will be taken to check for any damage and broken bones. Then, depending on the severity of your broken ankle, two treatments can take place:

  • Immobilizing your foot with a cast to let your ankle heal on its own, or
  • Ankle surgery.

With surgery, orthopaedic surgeons will typically use a procedure called “Open Reduction and Internal Fixation approach (ORIF)”. Here, the doctor inserts medical plates and screws to stabilize the fractured bones so they can heal properly. (3)

Physical therapy is required with any of the two approaches to recover your strength and range of motion.

What should you do after an ankle sprain?

Here are the three things that will help maximize your healing potential:

RICE protocol to relieve pain and swelling

RICE protocol stands for:

  • Rest. Avoid aggravating activities that can hurt your ankle.
  • Ice. Placing an ice pack on your ankle for 20 mins reduces pain temporarily.
  • Compression on your ankle with an elastic bandage to flush out swelling.
  • Elevation. Rest your foot on a surface above chest level to also lower swelling and bruising.

This will help: Maximize recovery by icing your ankle the right way

Take pain medications

Anti-inflammatory medications will also help lessen ankle pain and swelling.

Some of them may work well, while others may cause side effects. That’s why it’s best to consult your doctor before taking any medications.

Go to physical therapy

Our job as physical therapists is to help you, not just from your symptoms, but to recover and prevent another ankle sprain.

After you get your ankle evaluated, your PT will use different tools and treatments to help you heal, like:

  • Cold therapy and manual techniques to lessen pain and swelling.
  • Getting you up and moving with strengthening and range of motion exercises.
  • Balance exercises to reduce the chances of another sprain from happening again.

Try this: Exercise program to heal your ankle sprain

FAQs:

Will my ankle be the same after a fracture?

Yes, as long as you follow your doctor’s orders and complete your physical therapy sessions.

How long does it take for an ankle injury to heal?

Mild sprains may only take a few days before getting better. More severe sprains can take months before your full recovery.

Is ice good for ankle sprains?

Yes, but within the first week of your ankle injury. Afterward, heat therapy may be better.

Conclusion: Ankle sprain symptoms and signs

To summarize:

  • Symptoms of an ankle sprain are a popping sound, localized pain, and a hobbled walking motion.
  • Extreme pain around your ankle bones and difficulty walking may point to more serious injuries.
  • For your peace of mind and to recover faster, get medical treatment from your doctor and physical therapist.

Resources

  1. Ferran, Nicholas Antonio, and Nicola Maffulli. “Epidemiology of sprains of the lateral ankle ligament complex.” Foot and ankle clinics vol. 11,3 (2006): 659-62. DOI: 10.1016/j.fcl.2006.07.002
  2. “Broken Ankle (Ankle Fracture).”American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS). Retrieved on January 2022 from: https://www.footcaremd.org/conditions-treatments/ankle/broken-ankle
  3. Tantigate, Direk et al. “Timing of Open Reduction and Internal Fixation of Ankle Fractures.” Foot & ankle specialist vol. 12,5 (2019): 401-408.  DOI: 10.1177/1938640018810419

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