How Long Does it Take a Sprained Ankle to Heal?
An ankle sprain can happen during sports or dance – or even when you’re walking down the street. Whenever your ankle rolls, twists, or turns in an awkward way, you risk spraining your ankle.
Depending on the severity of the injury and your level of care when handling it, it can last from weeks to months, and the pain can be anywhere from manageable to excruciatingly painful.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat, rehabilitate, and even prevent an ankle sprain. We explain these and more down below.
What is an ankle sprain?
Ankle sprains (not to be confused with strains, which are tears in the muscles) are a result of injury to the ligaments of the ankle. It often happens because of a sudden overstretching of the ligaments in the ankle, often by the foot rolling in. Such injuries often happen when engaging in sports or exercise due to improper form or accidents.
You can tell that an ankle is sprained if it feels twisted or tweaked and painful when any weight is placed on it.
There are mild (Grade 1) and moderate cases (Grade 2) (which are the most common) where walking is still possible despite the presence of some pain and swelling – and there are severe cases (Grade 3) where there is a lot of swelling and bruising and walking is virtually impossible because of the severe pain.
How can you sprain your ankle?
Ankle sprains happen most often when you suddenly “twist” or “roll” your ankle. This forces the joint to move out of its normal position. When this happens, one or more of the ligaments in the ankle can stretch or tear.
This can happen for a variety of reasons:
- Misstepping during a sports match or hike
- Rolling an ankle during a run
- Falling from a high place and landing on your feet
- Sudden twists, such as when throwing a punch or kick
How long does it take a sprained ankle to heal?
The duration of the injury often depends on the severity.
For mild cases, the body can usually heal the injury by itself in a mere couple of weeks. With proper care, it’s possible to shorten the duration of the injury.
In some severe cases, however, it can take the body several months to heal from an ankle sprain. For some people, it takes 3 months just to be able to apply weight on their affected ankle.
How do I speed up the healing process?
If you feel pain in your ankle, it’s generally recommended to apply the RICE treatment method — Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.
- Rest. Avoid putting weight on the ankle and use crutches if available/necessary.
- Ice. Apply ice to the affected area to decrease swelling and numb pain.
- Compress. Wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling by restricting blood flow.
- Elevate. Use pillows, a stool, or anything to elevate the ankle above the level of the heart to keep blood from pooling in the affected area.
These treatments have one common goal – to prevent blood from pooling into your ankles. This reduces swelling and promotes blood circulation towards other parts of the body. Doing all the steps may seem redundant, but they all contribute towards accelerating the healing process.
Why is the pain getting worse?
Some people might incorrectly perform the steps in the recommended RICE treatment method or neglect doing it at all. When this happens, blood can pool into the affected area, which can promote inflammation – making the pain worse over time.
When is it time to see a doctor?
Some people will still suffer from pain, swelling, and bruising even after performing the RICE treatment method. If your situation still doesn’t improve, see if:
- the affected area still can’t bear any weight (e.g., walking is difficult or impossible)
- the affected area is numb or misshapen
- the injury keeps coming back
- there is no improvement after the first several days of the injury
In these cases, it’s best to contact a physician.
What kind of doctor do I go to for a sprained ankle?
Since an ankle sprain is an injury in the ligaments, you should go to a doctor who specializes in conditions of the joints, bones, and muscles (aka musculoskeletal conditions).
If you are suffering from a mild ankle sprain or currently recovering, a physical therapist, non-surgical orthopedist, or podiatrist may be able to help you accelerate recovery and restore function using minimally-invasive techniques.
If your case is severe, such as if there is extreme bruising, swelling, and an inability to bear weight on the affected area, then you may achieve a successful recovery with surgery. In that case, contact an orthopedic surgeon near you. Contact us if you’d like us to refer you to an orthopedic surgeon in New York.
We highly recommend that people with active lifestyles incorporate defensive measures against ankle sprains. Some of these precautions include:
Ankle sprains can significantly reduce quality of life. With proper care, however, it’s possible to accelerate recovery. By using the RICE treatment method, patients can do so even without the help of a physician. In some severe cases, however, symptoms can intensify. In these cases, patients must get immediate medical help to prevent the condition from worsening.
Book an appointment
We often treat foot and ankle pain here at Integrative Spine & Sports. Our team of licensed, professional physical therapists, podiatrists, and non-surgical orthopedists, are all ready to help you take back the spring in your step.
If you’re in the New York area, you can book an appointment with us by calling (212) 362-4742, emailing [email protected], or clicking the button below to get in touch.