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A woman is sitting on the ground worrying about her sprained ankle while a man is jogging.

When to Worry About Your Sprained Ankle

October 13, 2023

A sprained ankle is a common injury that happens when the ligaments in the ankle are stretched or torn. This often occurs when the ankle rolls inward while walking, running, or jumping. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty bearing weight on the injured ankle.

Initial Treatment

The RICE method is recommended for initial treatment of a sprained ankle:

  • Rest – Avoid putting weight on the ankle and limit activity for the first 48 hours. This prevents further injury. Use crutches if needed.[1]
  • Ice – Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the injured ankle for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours. This helps reduce pain and swelling.[2]
  • Compression – Wrap the ankle snugly with an elastic bandage. This limits swelling. Make sure it’s not too tight.[3]
  • Elevation – Keep the ankle raised above heart level as much as possible. This also reduces swelling.[4]

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain.

Seeking Medical Care

See a doctor if pain and swelling don’t start to improve after a few days of self-care, or if you can’t bear weight on the injured ankle. The doctor will examine the ankle and may order x-rays or an MRI to check for a fracture or torn ligament.[5]

For severe sprains, the doctor may recommend using crutches and wearing a boot or cast to immobilize the ankle while it heals. Physical therapy is often prescribed to help regain strength and range of motion.[6] Rarely, surgery may be needed for significant ligament tears.

Rehabilitation Exercises

Once pain and swelling have decreased, rehabilitation exercises can help restore ankle mobility and strength. The doctor or physical therapist will provide specific exercises to do. Examples include:[7]

  • Ankle flexes and pointing toes up and down
  • Tracing letters of the alphabet with the big toe
  • Stretching the ankle by pulling the foot towards and away from the body
  • Strengthening exercises using resistance bands

Properly rehabilitating a sprained ankle can help prevent chronic issues like instability, arthritis, and recurrent sprains. Wearing a brace during activities may offer added support. Most mild-to-moderate sprains heal within 2-6 weeks with proper treatment.


To help prevent future ankle sprains:

  • Warm up and stretch before physical activity
  • Wear supportive shoes with good traction
  • Tape or brace ankles during sports
  • Be careful when walking on uneven surfaces
  • Strengthen lower leg and ankle muscles

Seeking prompt treatment and following rehabilitation recommendations can help you recover well from a sprained ankle.



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