Key Points about Ankle Sprains

  • An ankle sprain may be caused by awkwardly twisting or rolling your ankle or planting your foot in an unnatural position.
  • The most common symptoms of an ankle sprain include swelling, pain, bruising, stiffness, or tenderness on the ankle joint. Also, you may have trouble placing weight on the ankle or notice skin discoloration.
  • Some ankle sprains can be prevented by strengthening the ankles, improving your flexibility and balance, and treating injuries as quickly as possible.
  • Your doctor can diagnose an ankle sprain with a physical exam, evaluation of your symptoms, and diagnostic testing such as an MRI or X-ray.
  • Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on the severity of your injury. Patients can typically be treated with self-care or nonsurgical interventions, but surgery may be necessary for severe cases.
  • Most ankle sprains heal without complications.

Overview

An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments and tendons of the ankle. The ankle joint is responsible for connecting the foot with the lower leg. Injuries to the ankle joint are common and can occur from awkwardly twisting the ankle or if force is applied directly to the joint.

Ankle injuries are often painful and can impact your ability to perform daily activities.

Ankle sprain causes

Common causes of ankle sprains include:

  • Planting your foot in an uncomfortable position when performing daily tasks or when walking or running.
  • Twisting your ankle from stepping on an irregular surface or stepping in a hole.
  • Rolling your ankle as a result of another person forcefully stepping on your foot.

Ankle sprain symptoms

Symptoms of an ankle sprain include:

  • Bruising, stiffness, or tenderness.
  • Swelling or pain.
  • Reduced ability to place weight on the affected ankle.
  • Skin discoloration.

Ankle sprain complications

If left untreated or not properly resting, a sprained ankle can lead to long-term ankle pain, joint instability, and arthritis in the ankle.

Ankle sprain risk factors

A variety of factors increase your risk of experiencing a sprained ankle, including

  • Participating in sports such as basketball, soccer, football, cross country running, or tennis.
  • Walking or running on uneven surfaces.
  • Experiencing a previous injury to your ankle.
  • Wearing shoes that do not fit properly or are not appropriate for the activity you are doing.
  • Being in subpar physical condition.

Ankle sprain prevention

While some ankle sprains cannot be prevented, there are ways to prevent others.

Follow these guidelines to prevent ankle sprains:

  • Improve your balance.
  • Strengthen your core.
  • Build ankle stability and strength.
  • Progressively work back to full activity level after an injury.
  • Improve your flexibility.
  • Care for ankle injuries as soon as possible after the injury.

Ankle sprain diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose an ankle sprain. During a clinic visit, your doctor will take a full medical history to evaluate your symptoms, any activity that caused your symptoms, and when your symptoms are most severe. Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to evaluate the range of motion in your ankle.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will likely order a diagnostic imaging test, such as an X-ray or MRI. An X-ray will reveal a broken or fractured bone. An MRI can reveal if you have damaged the soft tissues of the ankle joint. In some cases, your doctor may order a CT scan or ultrasound to evaluate the area further.

Ankle sprain treatment

Early intervention and treatment is an essential component of the healing process. Avoid putting weight on the injury until you have been given a treatment plan from your doctor.

Treatments for an ankle sprain include:

  • Icing the ankle every 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times a day for three days after the injury.
  • Compressing the ankle with a bandage.
  • Wearing a brace.
  • Using crutches.
  • Elevating your foot.
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to manage pain.
  • Avoiding putting weight on the ankle.

It will take as long as ten days for mild sprains to heal and as long as several weeks for severe sprains to heal.

While surgery to treat a sprained ankle is rare, it may be necessary to repair severe ligament damage where the joint appears unstable. If surgery is recommended, your doctor will evaluate your case to determine the most appropriate surgical treatment. Surgical treatments for a sprained ankle include:

When to Seek Care

Typically, you will not need to visit your doctor if you have a mild ankle sprain.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you have moderate to severe symptoms such as uncontrolled pain, inability to walk, or slow healing. He or she can quickly determine if your symptoms are the result of an ankle sprain or something more serious.

Next Steps

In preparation for your appointment, take notes about your symptoms, the location where they are most severe, and how the injury occurred.

Your ankle is likely not as stable as your other ankle, so you will need to strengthen the area and do not attempt exercises until your doctor is given you clearing.

Carefully follow your doctor’s treatment and recovery instructions.

If your symptoms worsen or intensify, call your doctor the right way for the next steps.