What To Do When You Sprain Your Ankle? | Follow These 5 Steps

Written by on March 21, 2022 — Medically reviewed by Mich Torres (PT)

Each painful step can be a stark reminder that you shouldn’t ignore your sprained ankle. So, before it gets worse, follow this guide to know what to do when you sprain your ankle.

Keep in mind that to treat a sprained ankle properly, you must know the type and severity first. We’ll walk you through each step. Yes, pun intended.

Here are the 5 things you should do. Tap on any of them to get a detailed look at each one:

1) Check if it’s more than an ankle sprain

An ankle joint fracture

Ankle pain can only tell so much about your condition. The first thing to do is determine whether it’s a fracture or not. To do this (1): 

  • Can you bear weight on the injured leg?
  • Can you take four steps with that foot?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, you may have a fracture. Please go to the ER to get an X-ray and rule out any bone fracture.

If not, then you may have suffered an ankle sprain.

The next steps will depend on how severe the ankle sprain was (2):

Mild sprain – Minimal pain and swelling

Here, you’re able to bear weight and walk, although there’s some pain. This is because your ankle ligaments are stretched to their limits but are still intact. 

Related: When is it ok to walk on a sprained ankle?

Moderate sprain – Fair swelling and some limping

Here, symptoms include pain and a fair amount of swelling in your ankle joint.

You may also notice unsteadiness or a limp when you try to walk. This can be due to one or more ligaments being partially torn.

Severe sprain – Intense pain and difficulty for weight-bearing

Here, the ankle ligament is fully torn. Symptoms include severe pain, swelling, and bruising. Also, you may find it difficult to bear weight on your injured ankle.

Learn more: How do you know if you sprained your ankle?

2) Go seek medical attention from your doctor

If your symptoms fit with the description of a moderate or severe sprain, it’s best to consult with your doctor.

Additionally, other signs and symptoms that warrant immediate medical appointment are:

  • Severe pain and swelling that doesn’t go away
  • Bluish discoloration of your foot and ankle
  • Foot deformity brought on by your injury

Your doctor will inquire about recent events that may have caused your injury. They will also test for your ankle range of motion, muscle strength, and ligament laxity. This will help them make a sprained ankle diagnosis.

If there’s suspicion of a fracture, your doctor will request imaging tests.

Probably an X-ray. After gathering your results, your doctor will suggest the best course of treatment for your ankle sprain.

For starters, if x-rays show a broken bone, you will likely be put in a cast or walking boot to immobilize your injured foot and prevent further injury.

Now, mild or moderate sprains likely heal with nonsurgical treatments like home remedies and physical therapy.

Related: What type of ankle sprain is most common?

3) Do home treatments to heal your sprained ankle

Here are some common home remedies that help ankle sprains heal:

RICE protocol

This method is the preferred treatment choice for ankle sprains, especially within four to five days from your injury. (3) It stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation, an effective protocol that can reduce pain and swelling efficiently.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Take a couple of days of rest to avoid further injury.
  • Place an ice pack over your sprained ankle for 20 minutes.
  • To further control swelling, wrap your ankle with an elastic bandage.
  • Once all is set, elevate your lower leg above chest level.
  • Do this protocol for your ankle repeatedly every 2 hours.

Try this: Here’s how to ice your ankle the right way

Medications

This is another way to relieve pain and swelling. Although not all medications are the same.

There are different dosages, compounds, and modes of application. That’s why it’s best to consult with your doctor or pharmacist to know the best medication for you.

Ankle bracing

An ankle brace serves as another form of external support for your ankle joint. It limits the excessive range of motion, helping prevent another ankle sprain.

Learn more: How do ankle braces work?

Exercises

Doing exercises for your ankle is a type of physical medicine. It improves the strength and stability of the muscles around your ankle and foot.

This is key to recovering from your inversion injury. It will also help prevent recurrent sprains and chronic ankle instability.

This will help: Complete exercise plan to treat your ankle sprain

4) Go to physical therapy

If you want to get better faster, then working with a physical therapist will certainly do just that!

PTs do a full-body assessment to design the right treatment plan for your sprained ankle. Here are some different therapeutic approaches we use to help you heal:

  • Manual therapy techniques to reduce pain and swelling
  • Strengthening exercises to help you heal and prevent further episodes
  • Stretching exercises to improve your flexibility and range of motion
  • Balance drills to restore the stability of your ankle

Each physical therapy session often lasts between 45 and 60 minutes. The number of sessions will depend on the severity of your condition and how well you do your exercises at home.

You may need between a few weeks to months of physical therapy to fully recover.

5) When everything else fails, consider ankle surgery

Surgery isn’t the first option for ankle sprains unless you have a severe bone fracture. Also, it may become an option if you still have persistent symptoms even trying various treatments.

When possible, discuss with your doctor and physical therapist which options you may have left before choosing to undergo surgery.

With that said, here are common surgical procedures for ankle sprains:

Ankle arthroscopy

In this minimally invasive procedure, orthopaedic surgeons use small surgical tools and an arthroscopic camera to repair your torn ligaments.

The surgeon will be able to do this through a small incision. This causes less trauma to your ankle, helping you recover faster than with other surgical techniques.

Ankle fusion

Ankle fusion procedure result

With this method, orthopaedic surgeons fuse your foot and ankle bones with screws. This reduces your range of motion, which can make your ankle more stable. In turn, this procedure reduces the risk of suffering another sprain.

There certainly are more drastic changes and recovery time with ankle fusion. As such, this method is for those who have developed chronic ankle instability and have poor results with rehabilitation. (4)

FAQs

What sport has the most ankle sprains?

Field hockey has the highest incidence of ankle sprains among sports, according to research. (5)

Why is someone who sprained their ankle more likely to sprain it again and again?

Because they didn’t receive proper treatment after the sprain.

This can lead to complications such as impaired ankle awareness, loss of muscle strength, and decreased ankle motion, which make you susceptible to another sprained ankle. (6)

How many days should you ice a sprained ankle?

During the first four to five days after the injury.

Conclusion: What to do for an ankle sprain?

The constant pain and swelling can make it harder for you to decide what to do after you sprained an ankle. But don’t panic.

By following this guide, you’ll apply science-backed solutions for your ankle injury.

Resources

  1. Bachmann, Lucas M et al. “Accuracy of Ottawa ankle rules to exclude fractures of the ankle and mid-foot: systematic review.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 326,7386 (2003): 417. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.326.7386.417
  2. 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
  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. Wang, Yan et al. “Effects of Ankle Arthrodesis on Biomechanical Performance of the Entire Foot.” PloS one vol. 10,7 e0134340. 29 Jul. 2015,  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134340
  5. Kaminski, Thomas W et al. “National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: conservative management and prevention of ankle sprains in athletes.” Journal of athletic training vol. 48,4 (2013): 528-45. DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-48.4.02
  6. Mugno AT, Constant D. Recurrent Ankle Sprain. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560619/

Leave a Comment

Ankle Action

Get our ankle wellness newsletter

Filter out the noise and nurture your inbox with health and wellness advice that’s inclusive and rooted in medical expertise.

Your privacy is important to us

Medical Affairs

Content Integrity

Newsletters

© 2019-2022 Ankle Action is a King Wave Company. All rights reserved. Our website services, content, and products are for informational purposes only. Ankle Action does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See additional information.