How is an ankle sprain treated?

An ankle sprain should be treated with rest, elevation of the affected limb, ice packs and compression using an ACE bandage. Visit your family doctor before treating an ankle sprain to ensure that there is no fracture.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Ankle sprains constitute 20 percent of all sports injuries. No wonder, since the ligaments in the outer ankle aren't very stable. Treatment is RICE (rest, ice, compression dressing, and elevation above the level of the heart for 48 hours), and to recover, you must include strengthening exercises. The aim is to regain a full range of motion by bending your ankle in all four directions, and then doing so while pushing against it as it goes in those directions. You'll need to strengthen surrounding ligaments and muscles as well, like those in the back of the ankle, since they are dynamic stabilizers of the joint. Propioception - knowing where you and your limbs are as you move around - is also important to help you regain motion, so practice walking with your eyes closed.
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Ankle sprain treatment is focused on reducing pain and swelling while also protecting the ankle from further injury. The damage ligaments of an ankle sprain usually take 4-8 weeks to heal depending on the severity of damage, usually longer than most patient suspect. Initially, treatment is provided with frequent ice to the ankle, simple range of motion exercises, and trying to maintain walking. An aircast or splint may be used to help with pain and assist in weight bearing. Crutches are occasionally used but the sooner walking is initiated the sooner you usually return to full activity. As pain and swelling improve, more resistant-type and balance exercises are added to help rehabilitate the ankle ligaments. Simply resting the ankle can result in stiffness, weakness and future injury. Ankle sprains do best with some physical therapy exercises, even if done at home. When walking is not painful and you can balance on the ankle, you can begin light jogging and gradually return to full activity. There is evidence that wearing a lightweight strap-type brace during sports for 6-12 months after an ankle sprain helps reduce reinjury.

The best way to treat an ankle sprain is rest, ice, compression and elevation (R.I.C.E.) for 4-6 days.
  • Resting gives your ankle time to heal from the injury. Walking or running on the injury too soon can impede the healing process. The amount of pain you feel when walking can guide the amount of time that is appropriate to rest.
  • Ice can be applied to the injury for 20 minutes as soon as the injury occurs. A general guideline that is followed with icing is 20 minutes on the injury and 20 minutes off the injury. Ice should help reduce bleeding and swelling in the area. 
  • Compression: The wrap should be tighter around the toes and looser toward the calf of the leg so that swelling is pushed out of the area. A compression wrap should not be worn while you are sleeping.
  • Elevating your ankle will help reduce swelling due to the laws of gravity. Sit with your leg straight at a level that is higher than your heart.

(This answer provided for NATA by the Eastern University Athletic Training Education Program)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.