An ankle sprain is a stretch or tear in one or more of the ankle ligaments. Ankle ligaments are slightly elastic bands of tissue that keep the ankle bones in place. Ankles are particularly prone to sprain because of the small size of the joint and the forces exerted when walking, running and jumping, especially if the surface is uneven.
Depending on the severity of the injury, an ankle sprain is classified as:
Millions of ankle injuries occur each year in the United States. Most of them are sprains. Most sprains happen when the ankle twists suddenly. The most common injuries happen when the foot rolls onto the outside of the ankle, straining the outside ligaments of the ankle joint. These are called inversion injuries. Less common are eversion injuries, which happen when the ankle rolls onto the inside of the joint, stretching the ligaments on the inner side of the ankle.
Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:
A health care professional may suspect that you have a sprained ankle based on the history of your injury and your current symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, he or she will examine your ankle for:
For severe ankle injuries, a health care professional may request X-rays to determine whether a bone is broken. Fractures can occur with or without a sprain and can cause similar symptoms.
How long it takes to heal depends on the severity of the sprain. Grade I sprains usually take one to two weeks to heal completely. Grade II sprains can take up to six weeks. Grade III sprains can take six months or longer to heal completely. On average, count on a two- to four-week healing period for any significant sprain.
To reduce your risk of spraining an ankle:
If you have had several ankle sprains, you'll need a good rehabilitation program that involves strengthening and balance exercises. You may need to wear a brace to protect your ankle as you recover.
The first treatment for an ankle sprain is usually RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation):
For severe sprains, you may need a brace for protection and stability. You may need crutches until you can walk without pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help to control pain and swelling. An orthopedist should evaluate people with Grade II or Grade III sprains. Grade III sprains with complete tears of the ligaments may require surgery to repair the injured ligaments.
In most cases, follow-up rehabilitative exercises are vital to restore strength and range of motion in the sprained ankle. These exercises should also help to prevent future ankle injuries.
Get immediate medical attention if you are unable to put weight on the injured ankle or if the injured ankle appears to be obviously deformed. Also see your doctor if the pain and swelling continue or worsen.
The degree of recovery depends on the severity of the sprain and the age and health of the patient. Most people recover completely from sprains, especially Grade I and Grade II sprains. However, once a significant sprain occurs, the joint may never be as strong as it was before the injury. With appropriate rehabilitative exercises, some of this lost strength and stability may return.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Insitutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675