Ankle Sprain

Ankle sprains happen when the joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion. This can cause one or more of the ligaments that hold the bones of the joint together to stretch or tear.

If a sprain is severe, the ligaments tear completely. In a moderate sprain, the ligament is partly torn. In a mild sprain, the ligament is stretched but not torn.


If you think you have a sprain, call your healthcare provider. You may need an X-ray to make sure you didn’t break a bone.

Magnetic resonance imaging, known as M-R-I, may be done if your healthcare provider thinks you have a very severe injury, such as a small bone chip, or other problems.


As soon as possible after the injury, start the treatment plan known as RICE - this stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rest the joint for the first 2 or 3 days by limiting the amount of walking on the joint. You may need to use crutches.

Apply ice to the area as soon as you can. The cold reduces swelling and inflammation, which can help relieve pain and speed healing. Cover the injured area with an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel for up to, but not longer than 20 minutes, four to eight times a day, unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise.

Don’t use heat if your ankle is swollen. It can cause more swelling and slow your recovery.

Compression means using a pressure bandage or air splint to help prevent or reduce swelling. Don’t use compression while you’re sleeping.

Elevation means raising the ankle above the level of your heart. You may need to lie down and prop up your leg to do this.

To help reduce pain and inflammation over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, can be used. Some familiar NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Prescription medicine may be needed for severe sprains and pain.

Another important part of early treatment is called functional rehabilitation. This means allowing the ankle to move, but not too far. This can be done with range of motion exercises, for example. A compression wrap, splint, or brace may be used to limit your ankle’s motion and protect the ankle from further injury during functional rehabilitation.

Depending on how severe your sprain is, you may have to change your daily activities, do special exercises, or get physical therapy.

In rare cases, surgery may be needed. It’s usually only an option when the ankle doesn’t get better and is still unstable after months of medical treatment.

One type of surgery is arthroscopy. For this surgery, a surgeon uses a small camera and special tools to look inside the joint for any problems that may keep your ankle from healing properly.

(Pause in voice over) In another surgery, called reconstruction, the surgeon repairs the damaged ligaments.

Things to Remember

  • Start RICE as soon as you can after the injury.
  • In all but mild cases, have your healthcare provider check the injury.
  • Avoid things that increase swelling, like activity and applying heat too early.

What We Have Learned

  1. Ice does not help to reduce the swelling. True or False?
    The answer is False. Ice reduces swelling and inflammation, which helps healing.

  2. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. True or False?
    The answer is True.  Rest, ice, compression and elevation should be started as soon as possible after the injury.

  3. Do not apply ice while you sleep. True or False?
    The answer is True. Avoiding applying both ice and compression to your injury while sleeping.