Every year, a million people seek medical care for ankle injuries. Forty percent of ankle sprains can potentially cause chronic issues.1 An ankle sprain can happen to anyone who rolls or turns an ankle while doing something as simple as walking. In some cases, an ankle sprain does not require medical intervention. A severe sprain or bone fracture requires medical treatment. It can be difficult to distinguish one type of injury from another, so be sure to speak with your doctor.
Common ankle sprain symptoms may include2:
- Sudden pain after twisting or rolling the ankle
- Inability to walk with a normal gait
- Tenderness when touched
- Limited range of motion in the ankle joint
In addition to these symptoms, an ankle fracture might also include3:
- Pain and swelling that does not reduce after a day or two
- Inability to bear weight on the injured leg
- Numbness or weakness
- Reduced circulation
If there is any doubt about whether your ankle is sprained or fractured, immediately seek medical attention. If you have a mild or moderate injury, consider these sprained ankle remedies:
Every athlete and parent knows this age-old remedy for minor strains and sprains, and doctors recommend it because it works.1
- Rest: Stay off the injury for a few days, and get ample rest.
- Ice: Apply cold to the ankle several times a day to help reduce pain and swelling.
- Compression: Apply a static or elastic compression bandage to help limit swelling.
- Elevation: Reduce the flow of blood and other fluids to the injury site by elevating the ankle above the heart.
It might seem simple, but RICE therapy may be very helpful during your recovery. Try to start it as soon as possible after the ankle sprain occurs in order to help control the body’s natural inflammatory response.
2. Cold Compression Therapy
If you want to take RICE to the next level, consider renting a cold therapy system for home use. Cold and compression therapy uses the same concepts as RICE therapy but adds modern technology, and the ability to elevate the extremity, to the mix. Instead of holding an ice pack on your ankle, a cold and compression therapy system uses a body-conforming wrap with integrated chambers that allow cold water and pressurized air to flow through the wrap. The water is constantly circulating, so it maintains a consistent temperature throughout the therapy. The pressurized air creates a pumping effect that mimics the muscles’ natural “squeeze and release” contractions to help reduce swelling.
The result is a longer-lasting, deeper-penetrating cold that aids in the overall recovery process. Cold therapy systems are also convenient because all you have to do is add ice and water to the system’s reservoir, apply the wrap, and rest with your leg elevated while the device does all the work.
3. OTC Pain Medication
Although a sprained ankle is not typically a serious injury, it may still be painful. If you find the discomfort too much to handle, consider taking an over-the-counter pain medication that may help reduce the pain and swelling.2 Check with your doctor if you’re on other medications, and always follow the dosage instructions to ensure proper use.
4. Epsom Salt
After a few days, you can soak your ankle in a warm bath with Epsom salt. It’s important to apply cold during the first few days after an injury. Epsom salt may help soothe sore muscles and connective tissues, and it may help with joint stiffness. Try adding Epsom salts to a warm or somewhat hot bath 1-2 times per day.
5. Natural Poultices
A variety of natural anti-inflammatory ingredients can be found in your pantry. If you want to try a traditional poultice to help reduce swelling, consider turmeric, garlic, onion, castor oil, or olive oil. Gently heat any of these ingredients and apply to a sprained ankle, and then wrap the ankle in a bandage for several hours. Research on the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory foods is mixed, but these foods are unlikely to harm you and may promote healing.5
Common Questions About Sprained Ankles
After an ankle sprain injury, many people ask the same types of questions, primarily about how long it takes to recover and how to speed up the process. Some of the most frequently asked questions include:
How long should it take to heal from a sprained ankle?
There is no single answer to this question because how long it should take to heal from a sprained ankle depends on a number of factors. The severity of the injury, how much rest you get after the injury, the treatment approaches you take, and your overall health may influence how fast the healing process goes. In general, healing times are as follows:
- Mild sprains: 1-2 weeks
- Moderate sprains: 4-6 weeks
- Severe sprains: 8-12 weeks6
In some cases, a severe sprain may require surgery or physical therapy to fully support recovery.
What helps a sprained ankle heal faster?
All of the above-mentioned treatment options may support healing after an ankle sprain. In addition to these approaches, staying off the affected leg and wearing a supportive brace may help immobilize the ankle joint and allow the damaged tissues to heal. Because your body is doing a lot of work to repair itself, getting ample rest, staying hydrated, and eating a balanced diet may help ensure that your body has what it needs to heal.1
How long do you need to stay off a sprained ankle?
The longer you can avoid putting pressure on the damaged ligaments in your ankle, the more opportunity they have to heal. However, life goes on even when you’re injured, so if you must be mobile, try to stay off the leg completely (use crutches if you need to get around) for at least 2-3 days and then use a rigid boot brace when walking around. If it hurts to put weight on the ankle, don’t walk on it. See a doctor if you are unable to walk for more than a few days.7
Can I walk on a sprained ankle?
Perhaps this question is better phrased as, “Should I walk on a sprained ankle?” The general rule is that if you feel pain in your ankle when you put weight on it, you shouldn't be walking on it. Use crutches for the first several days after suffering the injury, and then use an ankle brace or boot to provide support. Also, just because you can walk on a sprained ankle a week or so after the injury doesn’t mean you should be running or trying to do other athletic activities.
If you’re not sure which of these sprained ankle remedies is right for you, consult with a physician. Ask him or her about prescribing Game Ready to help control pain and inflammation while you recover.
- Wolfe MW, Uhl TL, McCluskey LC. Management of ankle sprains. American Family Physician. 2001;63(1):93-105. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0101/p93.html.
- Haddad SL. Sprained ankle. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprained-ankle/. Published February 2016.
- Cunha JP. Broken ankle vs. sprain: symptoms and recovery time. eMedicineHealth. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/ankle_fracture/article_em.htm.
- Why take an Epsom salt bath? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/epsom-salt-bath.
- Krans B, Kinman T. Foods that reduce inflammation. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis/foods-that-reduce-inflammation. Published January 5, 2018.
- Miller J, Russell Z. Sprained ankle. Physioworks. Accessed March 28, 2019 https://physioworks.com.au/injuries-conditions-1/sprained-ankle.
- Ankle sprains? Familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/condition/ankle-sprains-healing-preventing-injury/. Published July 14, 2017.