- Recovery from sprained ankle can take 3 weeks to 6 months, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Proper diagnosis and treatment are critical to ensuring quick recovery and preventing complications.
- Acute ankle sprains affect about 2 million Americans each year. The risk is highest among people between 10 and 19 years.11
- Fifty percent of all ankle sprains occur during sports activities.
- Though considered a minor injury, 7 in 10 people with sprained ankles may develop residual physical disability.22
- Reinjuries are common and may be associated with long-term issues, such as chronic ankle instability (CAI) and posttraumatic osteoarthritis.
Acute ankle sprains are common in the U.S. More than a painful injury, a sprained ankle can sideline you from participating in your favorite sports activity. Even worse, some may develop a residual physical disability, affecting their ability to perform day-to-day activities.
Usually, it takes about 3 weeks to recover from a moderate ankle sprain, while severe cases may take up to several months to heal.
Sadly, many cases of sprained ankles are misdiagnosed and inappropriately treated. The major cause of misdiagnosis is that the two main types of sprained ankles—high ankle sprains and lateral ankle sprains—often have similar signs and symptoms.
Experts at the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) report that both types can cause pain, swelling, limited motion, and bruising in the ankle region.
Types of Sprained Ankles, Symptoms, and Recovery Times
The time to recover from sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. In general, the greater the severity, the longer the recovery time.
Sprained Ankle Recovery Time Grade 1
This type of ankle sprain occurs when there is a mild tear of the ligament. Common symptoms include mild swelling and pain. Mostly, such injuries heal quickly – usually within 3 weeks. However, some cases may take up to 5 weeks to heal.
Sprained Ankle Recovery Time Grade 2
A second-degree sprain is more severe than a grade 1 ankle sprain and typically involves tearing half of the ligament. Along with more pain and swelling, there is also a loss of mobility. Usually, recovery takes about 5 weeks (4-6 weeks).
Sprained Ankle Recovery Time Grade 3
This type of ankle sprain involves a complete ligament tear and takes from 3 to 6 months to heal.
Grade of ankle sprain Approximate healing time
- First degree or grade 1 (mild) 3 to 5 weeks
- Second degree or grade 2 (moderate) 4 to 6 weeks
- Third degree or grade 3 (severe) 3 to 6 months
Tips for Faster Recovery from Sprained Ankle
First aid is the initial treatment for all cases of sprained ankles. It involves rest and medications to relieve pain and swelling, such as Advil (ibuprofen). Though grade 1 ankle sprain does not affect mobility, it is crucial to avoid movement and weight bearing on the affected ankle.
Besides, you can wear a brace or bandage to prevent the joint from moving. Some people may use crutches to support balance and movement.
Only a doctor can diagnose your condition. Most doctors at urgent care clinics can diagnose a sprained ankle by assessing the symptoms and employing special tests such as “squeeze tests.” Radiographic imaging of the affected ankle may be necessary in some cases.
If you have a severe injury, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedist or foot and ankle surgeon.
Consider the following tips to support faster recovery and prevent long-term complications.
RICE is an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. RICE is highly effective in reducing swelling and promoting recovery.
When you have a sprained ankle, it is crucial to get rest. Besides, you may wear a brace to immobilize the injured area. Most notably, it would help if you refrained from returning to sports activities unless you have completely recovered. Doing so will significantly reduce the risk of reinjury.
Ice packs help reduce blood flow to the injured area and may relieve pain and swelling.
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends using an ice pack for about 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. Notably, avoid applying the ice pack directly to the sprain. Instead, wrap it in a towel before it is exposed to the skin.
Compression helps stabilize the injured ankle, which in turn reduces inflammation and aids recovery.
Wrap the injured ankle with a bandage. Wrap the injured ankle with a bandage. The bandage should impair blood flow to the region.
Elevating an injured ankle prevents the fluid from accumulating in the joint. That way, elevation relieves swelling and pain.
Sit in a comfortable position with your foot and ankle over a pillow.
When to Call Your Doctor
Most sprained ankles heal without specific medical treatment. But some cases may need medical attention. Talk to your doctor if you:
- Have severe or persistent pain that does not improve with over-the-counter pain medications and RICE
- Do not feel better within a week
The following symptoms may indicate a bone fracture:
- Severe or persistent pain
- Extremely swollen foot or ankle
- Inability to walk without pain
- Severe pain in the bony bumps on each side of the ankle
Virtual Care from Sports Doctors and Specialists
SportsMD offers Virtual Care and Second Opinion Services. It allows you to quickly and conveniently speak with a sports doctor or specialist and have an effective alternative to emergency room, urgent care, or waiting for a doctors appointment. You can get Virtual Care from your home or anywhere via phone or video chat.
- Is it OK to walk on a sprained ankle?
Avoid walking on a sprained ankle. Rest is crucial to helping the injured tissue heal, and walking before complete recovery may cause complications.
- What is the fastest way to heal a sprained ankle?
Rest: Avoid activities that cause or make your pain worse.
Ice: Apply an ice pack – wrapped in a towel – to the injured ankle for 10-15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
Compression: Wear a bandage to compress the injured ankle.
Elevation: Elevate the affected ankle above the level of your chest. Elevation helps reduce inflammation by preventing the fluid from accumulating in the joint.
- Shall I sleep with a wrap on my sprained ankle?
Never sleep with your ankle wrapped. Doing so can impair blood flow and cause numbness. Most experts recommend compression only during the day.
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— Bob and Brad (@PtFamous) October 8, 2021
- Waterman, Brian R et al. “The epidemiology of ankle sprains in the United States.” The Journal of bone and joint surgery. American volume vol. 92,13 (2010): 2279-84. doi:10.2106/JBJS.I.01537.
- Herzog, Mackenzie M et al. “Epidemiology of Ankle Sprains and Chronic Ankle Instability.” Journal of athletic training vol. 54,6 (2019): 603-610. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-447-17.