When to Seek Medical Care
Usually, an ankle sprain itself does not call for a trip to the doctor. The problem is how to tell a sprain from a more serious injury such as a fracture. If the following happen, you should contact your doctor:
- Your pain is uncontrolled, in spite of over-the-counter medications, elevation, and ice.
- You cannot walk or cannot walk without severe pain.
- Your ankle fails to improve within 5-7 days. The pain need not be gone, but it should be improving.
- A follow-up visit 1-2 weeks after the injury is advisable to help with flexibility and strengthening exercises.
The indications to go to a hospital's emergency department are similar to those for which to call the doctor. The following conditions suggest you might have a fracture, or you may need a splint for pain control.
- Severe or uncontrolled pain
- Foot or ankle is misshapen beyond normal swelling
- Cannot walk 4 steps, even with a limp
Exams and Tests
The doctor will check to see if a fracture or other serious injury has happened to require immediate care.
- The examination should make sure that you haven’t injured the nerves or arteries to the foot.
- The doctor will handle and move the foot and ankle to determine what bony areas are involved.
- Finally, the Achilles tendon will be checked for signs of rupture.
- X-rays are often, but not always, needed to make sure that a fracture is not present.
Ankle Sprain Treatment Self-Care at Home
Care at home is directed toward lessening the pain and helping healing. Because most of the pain is caused by inflammation, you should try to reduce inflammation and keep it from happening.
Ice is probably the best treatment.
- Applying ice to the injury will do more for most people than medications.
- Ice will counteract the increased blood flow to the injured area.
- It will reduce the swelling, redness, and warmth.
- Applied soon after the injury, ice will prevent much of the inflammation from happening.
- Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Use a towel between the ice and the injury, or use an ice bag. Apply ice for 20 minutes at a time, with at least 20 minutes between applications. This is to prevent frostbite, which can occur if you use ice too much or use it directly on your skin.
Rest prevents further injury and avoids stress on already inflamed tissue.
- Put the ankle joint at rest by wearing a brace or splint.
- Compression wraps, such as Ace bandages, do not provide much support to prevent movement of the ankle, and you should not apply them tightly.
Elevation (keeping the injured area up as high as possible) will help the body absorb fluid that has leaked into the tissue.
- Ideally, prop the ankle up so that it is above the level of your heart.
- You can do this in a reclining chair.
- Anti-inflammatory pain medications will reduce the pain and combat the swelling. Several are available over-the-counter, such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB and Advil are common brands) and naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn are examples).