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Chances are everyone reading this article will have had an ankle sprain at one time or another. They’re one of the most common injuries seen in doctor’s offices and ERs. But the worrying thing is that 40% of ankle sprains become chronic problems.

None of us want to be nursing a sore ankle for months or even years after an awkward fall. Getting the right treatment at the time can help prevent a simple sprain from turning into something more serious.

Let’s explore how to treat an ankle sprain to avoid complications.

Signs of a Sprained Ankle

It’s easy to turn our ankles when playing sports or simply going about our daily routines. Before thinking about how to treat a sprained ankle, you need to be sure that’s definitely what you’re dealing with. 

The ankle is a complex piece of engineering, with three bones and several muscles and ligaments working together. A sprain means that you have overextended a ligament. This is not as serious as snapping the ligament but still needs treatment.

The classic signs of a sprained ankle are:

  • Pain or weakness in the ankle
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Can’t put your weight on it or move it normally
  • Muscles are cramping or spasming

The key to a swift recovery is to follow the RICE formula, explained below.

Signs of Something More Serious

As soon as your sprain your ankle, you’re faced with a dilemma. Should I see a doctor or not? In most cases, home treatment is the right option at first. 

But if your ankle swells significantly, is severely bruised, or it’s extremely painful to put your weight on it, it’s a good idea to get it checked out. Also, if your ankle isn’t improving after a few days of following the advice below, get a doctor to take a look at it.

If you do have a more serious problem you may need physical therapy to regain the use of your ankle. In very rare cases, surgery may be needed.

What to Do With a Sprained Ankle

The internationally accepted protocol for treating a sprained ankle uses the acronym RICE. This stands for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Follow this for the first few days and keep monitoring whether it is beginning to improve.

Rest

For a couple of days, try to rest your ankle as much as possible. Don’t walk unnecessarily and avoid exercise or other activities that require a lot of walking or standing. 

However, don’t keep your ankle still the whole time. Regularly move it if the pain is not too severe. This will prevent the joints from becoming stiff.

How to Ice an Ankle

Ice your ankle by putting an ice pack or even a bag of frozen vegetables on it for 20 minutes at a time. Wrap the ice pack or frozen vegetables in a thin towel first to prevent frostbite on your ankle.

Do not use ice too much. Repeat this 20-minute treatment cycle every 2 to 3 hours. Used correctly, ice will help to bring down the swelling, reduce bruising, and keep pain at bay.

If you have a vascular disease or diabetes, check with your doctor before using ice on your ankle.

Compression – How to Wrap an Ankle

Compression does two things for your ankle. It immobilizes it, reducing the possibility of further injury. It also helps to reduce swelling.

You can either use a tube-shaped compression bandage or grab a compression bandage and follow the instructions below. You can find a compression bandage in any First Aid Supplies Online kit. If possible, ask someone else to help you with this, as it can be tricky on your own when you have a sprained ankle.

To wrap your ankle, hold your ankle at a 90° angle. Start from just behind your toes. Wrap it around the ball of your foot once.

Next, circle your way around the foot in the direction of the ankle. Bring the bandage up across the top of the foot and over the front of the ankle. Bring it back around and under the arch of the foot again.

Continue working in a figure-eight pattern until the foot and ankle are fully supported. Use clips or tape to fasten the end of the bandage at the ankle.

The bandage should be snug but not too tight. It should not interfere with the circulation to the foot.

Elevation

Use a footrest or put your ankle up on a cushion to keep it elevated. In bed, put a pillow under your ankle to keep it above the level of your heart.

This helps to prevent fluid from accumulating in your ankle and can reduce swelling. 

How Long Does a Sprain Take to Heal?

Follow RICE for the first couple of days and you should begin to notice a reduction in the swelling in your ankle. Wear the compression bandage for up to three days and then try without it. You should notice that the pain has reduced and you are able to bear your weight with less pain.

It’s important not to rest your ankle for too long. After a couple of days, start some light exercise designed to strengthen the muscles in your calf and ankle. This can stimulate blood flow and speed up the healing process.

Stop any exercise that seems to be aggravating the injury. If the pain persists, talk to a doctor or a physical therapist about exercises that can help you complete your recovery. 

Even if your recovery is going well, it can take several weeks to start pursuits such as running or sports again. When you do resume, do so gradually, slowly working back to your previous level.

The Bottom Line: How to Treat a Sprained Ankle

Now you know how to treat an ankle sprain, make sure that you’ve always got an ice pack in the freezer! A compression bandage is the only other piece of specialist equipment you need to make a successful recovery.

Take your time, keep it moving, and find exercises that will strengthen your ankle. This can help to protect it against further injuries in the future.

For more helpful hints and tips, head over to our Health section today!