How to Heal and Recover from Ankle Sprains

healing an ankle sprain
By Fara Rosenzweig

Whether you lose your balance, twist wrong, or get tackled, ankle sprains happen. In fact, according to American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, about 25,000 people sprain their ankle daily. No wonder ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in the United States.

Once you’ve done the damage, it's time for you to begin the healing process. Many people think rest is the best. While rest does help, there's more to do to speed up recovery.

Depending on what type of sprain you have will determine the best recovery process. Your sprain will be classified as Grade I, II or III, depending on how many ligaments were torn. There are three major steps to recover from an ankle sprain; the length of each step will vary based on your diagnoses.

First Step: Reduce Swelling

RICE (Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate) is the most important step in your recovery process. You want to eliminate as much pressure on the foot and ankle as possible to avoid further damage. Crutches or a supportive ankle brace are ideal to help take the load off of your ankle. This will also help determine what Grade sprain you’ve encountered.

Grade 1: Swelling goes down with in a few days.
Grade 2: Takes about a week or two for swelling to subside. Doctors suggest immobilization or a splint for your sprained ankle.
Grade 3: Surgery is rare, but may be needed to tighten up ligaments for those who have repeatedly sprained their ankle. Doctors suggest a short leg air cast or walking boot for 2 to 3 weeks to help reduce the load on the ankle.

Second Step: Gain Range of Motion

After a few days off of your ankle, it's important to start moving it again to avoid scar-tissue build up. Special ankle exercises are prescribed from a physical therapist or doctor to help you get your flexibility and strength back. These movements are simple and usually use a towel, ball or band. Easy exercises like spelling the alphabet with your toes may be difficult to do at first, but this movement helps move the scare tissue, strengthening the ligaments and increasing flexibility.

Third Step: Slowly Return to Activity

This does not mean to go run speed drills like you were doing prior to your injury. This means you can return to your sport or exercise of choice, but gradually increase weight, distance or speed. This is the phase when athletes practice sport-like movement at the gym to help build balance and stability for their sport.

When back participating in activity, wear a brace to stabilize and support the ankle while helping to prevent the ankle from re-injury, according to The Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery. This can help you feel comfortable and confident during movement. Depending on your activity will determine the type of support to wear. You’ll want something that’s recommended for your type of activity because these braces provide the functionality to help you move on or off the field with the proper protection needed. The ankle brace should be tight enough to support your foot, but not too tight that you lose circulation, or your skin turns color.

It's important to complete your recovery program. Not following through may result in chronic ankle pain, instability or arthritis. Remember, it's always important to speak with your doctor once you’ve encountered an injury and if pain doesn't subside.