Sprained Ankle: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment
This page has been medically reviewed by David Gershkovich PT, DPT, Founder & Clinical Director at Riser Physical Medicine in New York City.
An ankle sprain is a ligamentous injury to the ankle commonly associated with pain, instability, and swelling in the ankle. A sprain can occur when the ankle is forced to move out of its normal position.
When this happens, the ligaments may stretch, partially tear, or tear completely. People who are generally active, such as dancers, gymnasts, runners, and other athletes, are the most vulnerable to ankle sprains.
What is a sprained ankle?
A sprained ankle is a condition affecting the ligaments of the ankle, which is why it’s also known as a ligamentous injury to the ankle. When the ligaments of the ankle are suddenly overstretched, such as when the foot rolls in, the ligaments may tear and cause the ankle to be sprained.
Ankle sprains can be classified into 3 types:
Grade I (Mild)
Grade II (Moderate)
Grade III (Severe)
Grade I & II ankle sprains are the most common type of ankle sprain. In these cases, there is often some pain and swelling, but walking is still possible. Mild and moderate cases of ankle sprain can cause some inconvenience, but patients can usually continue their days as usual with minimal physical activity.
Grade III ankle sprains are the worst type of ankle sprain. Walking is virtually impossible and there is a noticeable amount of swelling and bruising. However, because of the amount of force required to severely injure the ligamentous complex of the ankle, most people don’t have to worry about severe ankle sprains. It’s mostly competitive athletes who have to be careful.
Primary symptoms of ankle sprain:
The above symptoms may vary in intensity depending on the case and can be remedied using the RICE method (explained below), but one should see a doctor immediately if any of the following is experienced:
Walking or putting weight on the affected area is difficult or impossible
Affected area is numb or misshapen
Injury keeps coming back
Injury doesn’t improve even after several days
To find out whether you have an ankle sprain or not, it’s best to consult a doctor who may choose to perform an x-ray to make sure no bones are broken.
Most ankle sprains are caused by suddenly “twisting” or “rolling” the ankle. When this happens, the joint moves out of its normal position, causing one or more of the ankle’s ligamentous complex to stretch, tear partially, or tear completely.
This can most common causes for ankle sprains are:
Falling from a high place and landing feet-fist
Rolling the ankle
Sudden twists, such as when throwing a punch or kick
One of the most common ways to treat a sprained ankle at home is by using the RICE method of treatment, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate.
Rest. Putting weight on the ankle can aggravate the sprain. To avoid this, focus most of your weight on the other foot when you walk. You can also use crutches if necessary.
Ice. Cold can decrease swelling and numb pain in the affected area, so apply some ice or a cold pack to the ankle.
Compress. When blood pools up in an area, swelling may worsen. To prevent this, wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage. This restricts blood flow, which can ease swelling and reduce pain.
Elevate. Just like how restricting blood flow through compression can prevent blood from pooling in the affected area, elevating the ankle may also help. Elevate the ankle above the level of the heart using a pillow or stool to ease swelling and reduce pain.
All the steps in this method help prevent blood from pooling in the affected area, reducing swelling, alleviating pain, and promoting blood circulation towards other parts of the body.
Many people have reported seeing good results after trying the RICE method, but there is unfortunately little scientific evidence to back the method up. The method can help as a first step for treatment, but complete healing is not guaranteed. Because of this, we only recommend the RICE method for mild cases of ankle sprain.
If the ankle sprain doesn’t get better or worsens even after using the RICE method, the following treatments are scientifically proven to help alleviate pain and accelerate recovery:
Get back on your feet
If you live in New York City, you can come visit us at Riser Physical Medicine. We can treat your ankle sprain at any of our state-of-the-art offices in Union Square, Hudson Yards, or Murray Hill.
We’re a multidisciplinary rehab and recovery practice that goes beyond traditional physical therapy with over 10 years of experience treating all sorts of physical conditions including ankle sprains.
Our team of dedicated physical therapists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists can help you get back on your feet as fast as possible using our integrative approach that allows you to rebuild strength, reduce pain, and restore range of motion faster so you can get back to living the quality of life that you deserve.
We use the following treatment methods to treat ankle sprains:
If you’d like to get in touch with us for an in-office or virtual appointment (your choice), you can call us at 646-661-2181, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click the button below to book an appointment.