Almost every adult has sprained or nearly sprained their ankle at some point – accidentally rolling your ankle on a hike, awkwardly twisting it on a jog, even simply stepping the wrong way off a stair and turning your ankle too far can lead to a sprain.
What is a sprain exactly? Technically speaking, when the ligaments connecting your ankle bones together are stretched beyond their normal range of motion (and in some cases even tear) either by twisting, turning, or rolling your ankle, you can incur a sprain.
Most often it’s the ligaments on the outside of the ankle which are sprained, leading to symptoms including a popping sensation at the time of injury, pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, ankle instability, inability to bear weight on the ankle, and limited range of motion. While sprains can range from mild to severe, you should consider seeking medical evaluation no matter what to get the best diagnosis and treatment recommendations from your doctor.
Tips for Healing an Ankle Sprain at Home
Most often, sprains are treated without invasive procedures and instead with simple steps you can take at home to foster healing and tissue repair. Self-care measures include:
R.I.C.E. Method – for 2 to 3 days following your sprain, you will want to strictly adhere to the R.I.C.E. method which includes resting the affected ankle, icing it to combat swelling and relieve pain, and compressing and elevating it to reduce inflammation.
Avoiding activities that exacerbate your pain and swelling is a must.
Ice therapy can be achieved either by applying an ice pack or soaking your ankle in an ice bath; you’ll want to do this for only 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every 2 to 3 hours during the day.
You can facilitate compression by wrapping your ankle in an elastic bandage, starting the furthest away from your heart at your foot and working upward.
As for elevation, simply prop your injured ankle up on a pillow or two while lying or sitting down so that the foot itself rests above heart level; this is especially important at night.
Avoid Bearing Weight – Walking with a sprained ankle can be painful and potentially slow the healing process. Avoiding weight bearing without completely immobilizing yourself is possible with devices including:
Crutches – traditional (axillary) crutches may allow you to keep the weight off your injured ankle, but they are often clunky and hard to maneuver. Improper form when using crutches can also potentially lead to tripping and further hurting yourself or damaging nerves with the excess pressure placed on your armpit.
Knee scooters – knee scooters are a relatively new alternative to crutches that offer more stability and maneuverability to someone with a lower extremity injury like a sprained ankle. Featuring bicycle-like handlebars, 3 to 4 stabilizing wheels, and a raised platform (preferably with a knee scooter pad cover) on which to rest your leg, knee scooters allow you to stay off your ankle completely while still going about your day.
Orthotics/Cast – depending on the severity of your injury, your doctor may recommend aids that go further than simple ACE bandages or sports tape. Ankle braces, casts, and even walking boots may be required to immobilize the ankle while the ligaments heal.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or ibuprofen are typically all that is needed to manage the pain associated with a sprained ankle, especially if you are following other guidelines like resting and elevating it.
Physical therapy exercises to rehabilitate your ankle and re-establish its strength and full range of motion are a must once swelling and pain have subsided. Talk to your doctor about when the right time for you to restart ankle movement is and ask what exercises they or your physical therapist recommend. Stability and balance training will also reinforce your ankle joint to help prevent future sprains.