What is an ankle sprain?
An ankle sprain happens when 1 or more ligaments in your ankle joint stretch or tear. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect bones. Ligaments support your joints and keep your bones in place.
What causes an ankle sprain?
An ankle sprain is usually caused by a direct injury or sudden twisting of the joint. This may happen while playing sports, or may be due to a fall. If you have problems with balance, or have weak muscles or ligaments, you are more likely to sprain your ankle.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
What are the signs and symptoms of an ankle sprain?
- Trouble moving your ankle or foot
- Pain when you touch or put weight on your ankle
- Bruised, swollen, or misshapen ankle
How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your injury and examine you. Tell him if you heard a snap or pop when you were injured. Your healthcare provider will check the movement and strength of your joint. You may be asked to move the joint yourself. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. You may need any of the following:
- A joint x-ray is a picture of the bones and tissues in your joints. You may be given contrast liquid as a shot into your joint before the x-ray. This contrast liquid will help your joint show up better on the x-ray. A joint x-ray with contrast liquid is called an arthrogram.
- An MRI may show the sprain. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
How is an ankle sprain treated?
- Support devices, such as a brace, cast, or splint, may be needed to limit your movement and protect your joint. You may need to use crutches to decrease your pain as you move around.
- NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Acetaminophen decreases pain. It is available without a doctor’s order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
- Physical therapy may be recommended. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
- Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a torn ligament if your sprain does not heal with other treatments. Your healthcare provider may use screws to attach the bones in your ankle together. The screws may help support your ankle and make it stable. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about surgery to treat your ankle sprain.
Preparing for Care
How can you manage your ankle sprain?
- Rest your ankle so that it can heal. Return to normal activities as directed.
- Apply ice on your ankle for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
- Compress your ankle. Ask if you should wrap an elastic bandage around your injured ligament. An elastic bandage provides support and helps decrease swelling and movement so your joint can heal. Wear as long as directed.
- Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your ankle on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
How can you prevent another ankle sprain?
- Let your ankle heal. Find out how long your ligament needs to heal. Do not do any physical activity until your healthcare provider says it is okay. If you start activity too soon, you may develop a more serious injury.
- Always warm up and stretch before you exercise or play sports.
- Use the right equipment. Always wear shoes that fit well and are made for the activity that you are doing. You may also need ankle supports, elbow and knee pads, or braces.
When should I seek immediate care?
- You have severe pain in your ankle.
- Your foot or toes are cold or numb.
- Your ankle becomes more weak or unstable (wobbly).
- You are unable to put any weight on your ankle or foot.
- Your swelling has increased or returned.