Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size

Ankle Sprain

Although often associated with women in high-heeled shoes, ankle sprains are a common ailment for all sorts of athletes. About 25,000 people get them every day.

And what is an ankle sprain, exactly? It’s an injury to one of the ligaments in your ankle. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that hold your bones together. Although ligaments are flexible, all it takes is a sudden twist for them to stretch too far or snap entirely.

Recommended Related to Pain Management

Parenting With Chronic Pain

Not long after her daughter was born in 1999, Sherrie Sisk began experiencing debilitating episodes of pain that left her feeling like she’d been run over by a truck. “It was like the worst flu aches and pains you could ever imagine,” she says. A few months later, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition characterized by fatigue and pain, particularly focused around certain “tender points” in the body. Ten years later, she’s learned to live with her condition -- and her daughter...

Read the Parenting With Chronic Pain article > >

You might get a sprain if your foot lands on the ground at an angle, or with too much force. Your risk of an ankle sprain is higher if you

  • Have had previous ankle sprains
  • Walk, run, or play on uneven surfaces
  • Wear shoes that don’t fit well or don’t have good support
  • Play sports that require sudden changes in direction, like football, soccer, and basketball

 

What Does an Ankle Sprain Feel Like?

Symptoms of an ankle sprain are

  • Ankle pain, which can be mild to severe
  • Swelling
  • A popping sound during the injury
  • Difficulty moving the ankle
  • Bruising
  • Instability of the ankle (in severe sprains)

Ankle sprains are divided into three grades. People with Grade I sprains may be able to walk without pain or a limp. But those with Grade III sprains are often in such pain that they can’t walk at all.

To diagnose an ankle sprain, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. You may also need X-rays to rule out broken bones. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may show details of the ligament damage, but doesn't need to be done in every case.

What’s the Treatment for an Ankle Sprain?

Happily, minor to moderate ankle sprains should heal on their own, given time. To speed the healing, you can do the following:

  • Rest the ankle. Avoid putting weight on your ankle as best you can. If the pain is severe, you may need crutches until it goes away.
  • Ice your ankle to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone. After that, ice it once a day until you have no other symptoms.
  • Compress your ankle. Use an elastic bandage to keep down swelling. Start wrapping at your toes and work back towards your leg.
  • Elevate your ankle on a pillow when you’re sitting or lying down.
  • Use braces or ankle stirrups to give your ankle support.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They are best taken with food, and they should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.

Even Grade III sprains, in which the ligament is completely torn, may heal naturally. In rare cases, you might need surgery. During the operation, the surgeon might remove bits of torn ligament, bone, and cartilage. The ligament may also be repaired (sutured together), or reconstructed (replaced with a biologic material). After surgery, you may need a cast for one to two months.

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
illustration of nerves in hand
Slideshow
lumbar spine
Slideshow
 
Woman opening window
Slideshow
Man holding handful of pills
Video
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Sore feet with high heel shoes
Slideshow
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
man with a migraine
Slideshow