An ankle sprain is a partial or complete tear of the ligaments that support the ankle. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other.
Ankle sprains may be caused by:
Sudden twisting of the ankle, such as:
- Stepping on an uneven surface or in a hole
- Taking an awkward step when running, jumping, or stepping up or down
- Having your ankle roll over when playing sports or exercising—called inversion of the foot
Factors that increase your chance of getting an ankle sprain include:
- Playing sports especially with the wrong type of shoe
- Walking on uneven surfaces
- Weak ankles from a previous sprain
- Poor coordination
- Poor balance
- Poor muscle strength and tight ligaments
- Loose joints
- Certain footwear (for example high heels)
Symptoms of an ankle sprain may include:
- Pain, swelling, and bruising around the ankle
- Worsening of pain when walking, standing, pressing on the sore area, or moving the ankle inward
- An inability to move the ankle joint without pain
- A popping or tearing sound at the time of the injury (possibly)
An ankle sprain may not require a visit to the doctor. However, you should call your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Inability to move the ankle without significant pain
- Inability to put any weight on that foot
- Significant swelling or bruising
- Pain over a bony part of your foot or ankle
- Pain that interferes significantly with walking
- Pain not relieved by ice, pain relief medication, and elevation
- Numbness in the leg, foot, or ankle
- Pain that does not improve in 5-7 days
- Uncertainty about the severity of the injury
- Uncertainty about how to care for this injury
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how your injury occurred. An examination of your ankle will be done to assess the injury.
Ankle sprains are graded according to the damage to the ligaments. The more ligaments involved, the more severe the injury.
- Partial tearing of ligament tissue
- Mild instability of the joint
- Usually involves damage to 2 ankle ligaments
Most sprains heal well. Treatment for a sprained ankle includes:
- Rest—Avoid putting any pressure on your ankle by not walking on it. Using crutches will let you bear partial weight. This is allowed early on, except when all three ligaments are torn.
- Ice—Apply ice or a cold pack to the ankle for 15-20 minutes, 4 times a day for at least 2-3 days. This helps reduce pain and swelling. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin.
- Compression—Wrap your ankle in an elastic compression bandage. Wrap from the toes going up toward the knee. This will limit swelling of your ankle and foot.
- Elevation—Keep your ankle raised above the level of your heart as much as you can for 48 hours. This will help drain fluid and reduce swelling.
- Oral pain medicine such as, ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, aspirin or topical pain medicines, such as creams and patches that are applied to the skin
- Rehabilitation exercises—Begin exercises to restore flexibility, balance, range of motion, and strength of the muscles around your ankle as recommended by your doctor. You may benefit from working with a physical therapist that can teach you the exercises and make sure that you are performing them correctly.
- Brace—You may need to wear a brace or walking boot to prevent your ankle from moving. In many cases, a brace, which stabilizes and compresses the ankle, will allow for early weight bearing and an earlier return to activity. You will be rehabilitating the ankle as it heals. If you play sports, you may need to wear an ankle brace or tape your ankle when you return to play.
- Leg cast—If you have a severe sprain, your doctor may recommend a short leg cast for 2-3 weeks, but this is very rare. In many cases, there are special braces that can be used instead of a cast.
- Surgery—Surgery is rarely needed to repair an ankle sprain. However, it may be necessary to repair a third degree sprain in which all three ligaments are torn.
Many ankle sprains cannot be prevented. However, you can reduce your risk of spraining an ankle:
- Take a break from sports or exercise when you feel tired.
- Do exercises that strengthen leg and foot muscles.
- Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities. This will decrease stress on all your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, including those around your ankle.
- If you have injured your ankle before, you are more likely to injure it again. You may reduce your risk of repeated sprains by wearing an ankle brace.
- Wear appropriate footwear when playing sports to avoid injury.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.
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9/10/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mosher TJ, Kransdorf MJ, et al. ACR Appropriateness Criteria acute trauma to the ankle online publication]. Reston (VA): American College of Radiology (ACR);2014. 10 p. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=48284#Section420. Accessed September 10, 2014.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.