Ankle sprains occur commonly — averaging about 25,000 times per day in the United States — and their symptoms range from minor discomfort and swelling to debilitating injuries that are nearly as painful as bone fractures. Any ankle sprain can cause long-term problems if you don’t get treatment. Ankle sprains are caused by stretched or torn ligaments, which are caused by the ankle being rolled inward (inversion sprain) or outward (eversion sprain). Inward sprains are the most common because any sudden force, such as your foot landing on an uneven surface, can force the ankle to turn inward. Inward sprains actually cause pain on the outside of the ankle; outward sprains cause interior pain and can affect the arch support system of your foot, so they’re usually more severe.
Sprained Ankle Treatments
Immediately after injuring your ankle, you should get off your feet, rest and try to reduce the swelling. Compressing your ankle helps to immobilize it so that you don’t aggravate the injury. If the pain is severe, seek medical attention. You can easily remember the best treatments for a sprain by thinking about ice and then the R.I.C.E initials.
- Rest: Keep off your feet as much as possible until the swelling goes down. Use crutches or a walker if necessary.
- Ice: Apply an ice pack for about 10 minutes every hour or two for one to three days.
- Compression: An elastic compression wrap or ankle brace prevents swelling, stabilizes the ankle and prevents further damage.
- Elevation: Keeping your ankle raised to the level of your heart for a few hours each day helps to reduce swelling and bruising.
You can take an over-the-counter NSAID pain reliever like acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen, but read and follow the label. If you must walk, wearing high-top, lace-up boots or shoes can help to immobilize and protect the sprain.
Surgery may be necessary to repair torn ligaments or if a bone is also broken in the injury. Home care options including protecting the ankle by wearing a brace or compression bandage.
Rest and Rehabilitation
All ankle injuries can be aggravated by physical activities, so rest and rehabilitation are the keys to healing. If you don’t treat your ankle and give it time to heal, the stretched or torn ligaments are prone to reinjuring. You could suffer from lifelong chronic pain, susceptibility to new injuries, walking instability and arthritis.
Ways to Prevent Ankle Sprains
Most physical injuries can be reduced by taking precautions. This is especially true for athletes and people who exercise regularly. Tips on how to prevent sprains include:
- Wear shoes that keep your ankle stable.
- Consider plyometric training to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments, which include exercises like skipping, hopping and jumping.
- Try stretching and strengthening exercises.
- Warm up before attempting strenuous physical activity.
- Strapping or taping ankles can prevent injuries.
You should do what you can to prevent, treat and rehabilitate ankle sprains, or you could face ongoing pain, discomfort and reduced mobility.