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Ankle sprains are common, but knowing what to do when they occur can help them heal faster.

Have you ever stepped wrong or suddenly turned your foot in an awkward way? When that happens, you likely know how painful a sprained ankle can be. Sprained ankles can often be treated with self-care measures, but there are times when a trip to the doctor’s office may be in order for further evaluation and treatment.

What is a sprained ankle?

When you turn, twist, roll or otherwise move your ankle in an awkward position, it can stretch or tear the ligaments that help stabilize your ankle. Most often, the injury affects the ligaments on the outside of your ankle, but you can injure other ligaments around your ankle, foot and lower leg, too.

What are the signs of a sprained ankle?

The most common sign of a sprained ankle is pain, especially when you put weight on the foot that’s injured. Other symptoms may include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Instability
  • Reduced range of motion
How should you treat a sprained ankle?

Treating a sprained ankle may depend on how badly injured your ankle is. If your symptoms are relatively mild, you may be able to get symptom relief by using the RICE method for a few days. RICE stands for:

  • Rest. Stay off your injured ankle as much as possible and avoid activities that cause pain or swelling. You may want to use crutches when walking while your ankle heals.
  • Ice. Apply ice to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time and repeat every few hours. Ice helps reduce swelling, but it is only effective during the first two to three days.
  • Compression. Wrap the injured ankle with an elastic bandage to help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation. Raise your ankle above your heart (prop it up on pillows while you lie in bed or on the couch) to reduce swelling.

You may also find that an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) helps ease pain and swelling.

When should you see a doctor?

If self-care measures don’t alleviate symptoms after a few days or you suspect that you have done more significant damage to your ankle, it is best to see a doctor. During a medical exam, a doctor will examine your ankle, foot and lower leg to determine the extent of your injury. Aside from checking your range of motion and feeling for points of tenderness and pain, you may be referred for imaging scans to evaluate ligament damage and to rule out the possibility of a broken bone. Imaging tests may include an x-ray, CT scan, ultrasound or MRI.

A doctor may suggest that you wear a brace to provide more stability for your ankle while it heals. After the initial symptoms begin to improve, doing physical therapy or performing recommended exercises can help restore your ankle’s strength, stability and range of motion.

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Date Last Reviewed: April 19, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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