Understanding Ankle Sprain
The ankle is the joint where the leg and foot meet. Bones are held in place by connective tissue called ligaments. When ankle ligaments are stretched to the point of pain and injury, it is called an ankle sprain. A sprain can tear the ligaments. These tears can be very small but still cause pain. Ankle sprains can be mild or severe.
What causes an ankle sprain?
A sprain may occur when you twist your ankle or bend it too far. This can happen when you stumble or fall. Things that can make an ankle sprain more likely include:
Having had an ankle sprain before
Playing sports that involve running and jumping. Or playing contact sports such as football or hockey.
Wearing shoes that don’t support your feet and ankles well
Having ankles with poor strength and flexibility
Symptoms of an ankle sprain
Symptoms may include:
Pain or soreness in the ankle
Redness or bruising
Not being able to walk or put weight on the affected foot
Reduced range of motion in the ankle
A popping or tearing feeling at the time the sprain occurs
An abnormal or dislocated look to the ankle
Instability or too much range of motion in the ankle
Treatment for an ankle sprain
Treatment focuses on reducing pain and swelling, and avoiding further injury. Treatments may include:
Resting the ankle. Avoid putting weight on it. This may mean using crutches until the sprain heals.
Prescription or over-the-counter pain medicines. These help reduce swelling and pain.
Cold packs. These help reduce pain and swelling.
Raising your ankle above your heart. This helps reduce swelling.
Wrapping the ankle with an elastic bandage or ankle brace. This helps reduce swelling and gives some support to the ankle. In rare cases, you may need a cast or boot.
Stretching and other exercises. These improve flexibility and strength.
Heat packs. These may be recommended before doing ankle exercises.
Possible complications of an ankle sprain
An ankle that has been weakened by a sprain can be more likely to have repeated sprains afterward. Doing exercises to strengthen your ankle and improve balance can reduce your risk for repeated sprains. Other possible complications are long-term (chronic) pain or an ankle that remains unstable.
When to call your healthcare provider
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed
Pain, numbness, discoloration, or coldness in the foot or toes
Pain that gets worse
Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse
March 21, 2017
Ferri F. Ankle sprain. In: Ferri F, editor. Ferri's Clinical Advisor. Phildelphia: Elsevier; 2016. p. 119-20., Krabak BJ. Ankle Sprain In: Frontera WR, et al, editors. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 3 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2015. p. 426-30., Maughan KL. Ankle sprain. Up To Date. January 21 ed: Up To Date; 2016. p. 38., Safran MR, et al. Ankle Sprain, Acute. In: Safran MR, et al, editors. Instructions for Sports Medicine Patients. 2 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2012. p. 93-102.
Bellendir, Trina, MSPT, CLT,Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.,Joseph, Thomas N, MD