Your Guide to Easy Ankle Sprain Recovery

The runners, triathletes, and weekend warriors (and there are a lot of them) at University Foot & Ankle Institute know that spraining an ankle is way more than just a pain. It’s a disruption to your training routine and can really thwart your season’s plans and make weekends a lot less enjoyable. 

Healing from an ankle sprain takes time, and rushing it can lead to re-injury.

So, take a deep breath, pull up your favorite streaming service, and follow our helpful guide for getting through your 2 – 6 week recovery time.

What is an ankle sprain?

First things first, what is an ankle sprain? An ankle sprain is one of the most common ankle injuries. The ankle joint may twist or roll unnaturally during exercise, sport, or from underuse and cause stretching and/or tearing of an ankle ligament. The most common symptom of a sprain is ankle pain.

There are a couple varieties of ankle sprain depending on which ligament is injured.

Ankle Sprain Grades

Lateral Ankle Sprain

Also known as inversion ankle sprains, lateral sprains occur when the lateral ligaments on the outside of the ankle get torn or injured.

Medial Ankle Sprain

Also known as eversion ankle sprains, medial sprains occur when the deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle gets torn or injured. Medial sprains are less common because of the extra bony support on the inside of the ankle joint.

How to tell if you sprained an ankle

Well, if you roll or twist your ankle and then experience any of the following symptoms, you may have a sprain:

  • Pain, especially when bearing weight on the foot
  • Ankle is tender to the touch
  • Swelling   
  • Bruising
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Ankle instability
  • Popping sensation or sound at the time of injury

If you suspect you’ve sprained your ankle, get in touch with your healthcare provider or orthopaedic surgeon. There are multiple grades of ankle sprain and your recommended treatment may vary depending on the severity of the sprain. Failure to properly diagnose and treat a severe sprain can result in improper healing and chronic ankle instability

Don’t take chances with your ankle health!

How to treat an ankle sprain

As mentioned, treatment depends on the severity of the sprain. First, your doctor may perform an X-ray, MRI, or other imaging tests on the injured ankle to rule out a fracture.

Very severe ankle sprains may require immobilization with a cast.

Mild sprains benefit from rest and ankle support (splints, ankle braces, or elastic bandages). Studies have actually shown patients return to normal activities faster when treatment focuses on restoring function rather than total immobilization.

Step 1: Take it easy

Yes, that means YOU. We know how hard it is to sit on the couch, dwelling on all the miles you could be logging if you weren’t hurt. But you’re going to need to rest your ankle in order to heal properly and avoid further injury. Think of this period as an investment, not a vacation.

Man relaxing on couchPain can be managed with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, but don’t overuse them. Studies have shown that anti-inflammatory drugs may slow healing. After the first couple days, switch to acetaminophen (which does not have anti-inflammatory effects).

For severe pain, use an ice pack for about 15 to 20 minutes at most two to three times. Research by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has shown that icing slows the blood flow necessary for healing and, in fact, slows healing.

To help encourage healing, NATA actually recommends…

Step 2: Ankle Range of Motion Exercises

If your injury is minor (not a lot of swelling in the injured area) and you can move without pain, start with range of motion exercises. Keeping the injured ankle moving (a little bit) helps promote blood flow and healing.

A good way to start is with a simple point-and-flex exercise while seated. Once that becomes more comfortable, you can focus on recovering your finer coordination skills by spelling out words with your feet on an invisible chalkboard.

Don’t overdo it, as your ankle does need rest to recover and not exacerbate the injury.

Step 3: Get moving

Just because you can’t run or walk, doesn’t mean you have to be sedentary. Talk with your physical therapist about ways you can get some exercise without posing a danger to your ankle. Think of this as an unexpected opportunity to build your upper body strength and explore new activities.

Woman in pool, propped up on wallSwimming is the choice recovery activity for the pros – it works more muscle groups than almost any other activity and it’s a low impact (read: low risk) activity. You can also try weight lifting machines, battle-rope exercises, and boxing while seated.

Exercising while injured keeps your blood circulating and your metabolism burning. It also floods your system with endorphins, which can help you keep your spirits up while you recover.

Step 4: Build ankle strength

Are you bearing weight? Is your ankle moving freely? It’s time to start re-building those ankle muscles with simple strengthening exercises. We have some simple exercises we recommend, but you can also search for physical therapy ankle exercises online if you want more variety. Just remember not to push too hard too early!

Exercise 1: Press your foot downward and inward against a wall or coffee table, then flex it up and outward. Alternate directions to point towards the other two corners, and repeat every 15 seconds for 10 sets.

Exercise 2: Loop a resistance band around the ball of your foot and hold the other end with your hand. Point and flex your foot against the elastic pressure in every direction.

Calf strengthening exercises can also help restore stability and prevent future injury. The muscles of the lower leg connect to the ligaments of the ankle, assisting in flexing and movement.

Step 5: Make smart goals and ease into your routine

Once you get the green light from your orthopedic specialist to start training again, take it slow and set goals for yourself. Intersperse short intervals of weight-bearing exercises into your alternate, post-injury routine. Elliptical machines, bikes, and treadmills are going to be your best friends during this period. All of these can be easily adapted to the level of intensity you feel comfortable with.

Continue increasing the intensity of your lower-impact activities and the duration of your weight-bearing exercises. As you work your way up to running, avoid uneven surfaces – like dirt trails – until after you’ve made a full recovery. Stick with turf tracks and pavement for a few weeks.

And of course, keep your foot and ankle specialist updated on your progress! We love to hear from you about your road to recovery.

Why choose University Foot and Ankle Institute for your foot and ankle care?

If you’re experiencing foot problems and looking for medical advice, we’re here to help. Our podiatrists offer the most advanced podiatry care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists and leaders in researching, diagnosing, and treating all foot and ankle conditions and common injuries.

For a consultation please call (877) 736-6001 or make an appointment online now.

Our podiatrists take patients’ safety seriously. Our podiatry facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all the CDC’s coronavirus pandemic recommendations. Masks are always required in our institutes.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area as our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.

2 comments

  1. Every step is really good. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this blog, excellent writing.

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