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What is an ankle sprain?


An ankle sprain results from a twisting injury of the ankle. This damages the ligaments that stabilize the ankle joint. These ligaments can include:

  • Anterior talofibular ligament

  • Calcaneofibular ligament

  • Posterior talofibular ligament

  • Deltoid ligament

  • Interosseous ligament

Ligament sprains are classified based on severity.


Grade 1 sprains are painful but the ligaments have minimal to no tearing.

Grade 2 sprains involve more damage to the ligament and may cause looseness of the joint.

Grade 3 sprains result in a complete tear of the ligament. This may cause an unstable joint.


Ankle sprain symptoms


Ankle sprains results in pain and swelling over the injured ligament. There can be discoloration and bruising. The ankle may feel stiff. It may hurt to put weight on the foot or ankle.


Diagnosis of ankle sprain


A physician can diagnose an ankle sprain by evaluating the mechanism of injury and performing a physical exam. X-rays may be needed to rule out a fracture. Diagnostic ultrasound can help evaluate the ligaments and assess for tears.


Treatment of ankle sprain


  • Apply ice to the ankle for 15-20 minutes every 4 hours for the first 2-3 days.

  • Elevate the ankle by placing a pillow underneath the foot. Try to keep the ankle above the level of the heart.

  • Use an ACE bandage to compress the ankle to control swelling.

  • An ankle brace can help provide support to the ankle.

  • Crutches may be necessary for severe ankle sprains.

  • Oral or topical anti-inflammatory medications can help decrease inflammation and control pain.

  • Ankle exercises will help improve range of motion and strength. Early rehabilitation allows for the quickest return to activity. You may start as soon as pain allows.

Recovery after an ankle sprain depends upon its severity. A mild ankle sprain typically recovers after a few weeks. Severe ankle sprains can take 6-8 weeks. Medial and high ankle sprains often take longer.


Chronic ankle laxity


Rehabilitation is important after an ankle sprain. Exercises help strengthen and support the injured ligament. This prevents chronic looseness or instability of the ankle joint. Recurrent ankle sprains result in chronic ankle laxity and puts the ankle at higher risk for future injury. This may require surgery.


Exercises to treat ankle sprain


Ankle sprain stretches and exercises


© 2020 by Jeffrey Peng MD