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Ankle Sprain

An ankle sprain is a partial or complete tear of the ligaments that support the ankle. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other.

Sprained Ankle

Ankle sprain

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Ankle sprains may be caused by:

  • Falling
  • Sudden twisting of the ankle, such as:
    • Stepping on an uneven surface or in a hole
    • Taking an awkward step when running, jumping or stepping up or down
    • Having your ankle roll over when playing sports or exercising—called inversion of the foot

Ankle Sprain Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of getting an ankle sprain include:

  • Playing sports
  • Walking on uneven surfaces
  • Weak ankles from a previous sprain
  • Having:
    • Poor coordination
    • Poor balance
    • Poor muscle strength and tight ligaments
    • Loose joints

Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle

Symptoms of an ankle sprain may include:

  • Pain, swelling and bruising around the ankle
  • Worsening of pain when walking, standing, pressing on the sore area or moving the ankle inward
  • An inability to move the ankle joint without pain
  • A popping or tearing sound at the time of the injury (possibly)

Diagnosing a Sprained Ankle

An ankle sprain may not require a visit to the doctor. However, you should call your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Inability to move the ankle without significant pain
  • Inability to put any weight on that foot
  • Pain over a bony part of your foot or ankle
  • Pain that interferes significantly with walking
  • Pain not relieved by ice, pain relief medication and elevation
  • Numbness in the leg, foot or ankle
  • Pain that does not improve in 5-7 days
  • Uncertainty about the severity of the injury
  • Uncertainty about how to care for this injury

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how your injury occurred. An examination of your ankle will be done to assess the injury.

Images may need to be taken of your ankle. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • MRI

Types of Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are graded according to the damage to the ligaments. The more ligaments involved, the more severe the injury.

Grade 1

  • Some minor tearing of ligament tissue
  • Ankle remains stable

Grade 2

  • Partial tearing of ligament tissue
  • Mild instability of the joint
  • Usually involves damage to two ankle ligaments

Grade 3

  • Complete tearing of two or three of the ligaments
  • Significant instability of the joint

Ankle Sprain Treatment

Most sprains heal well. You may wish to use pain medication or topical creams and patches to reduce area pain.

Your doctor may recommend a brace or walking boot to help stabilize and compress the ankle, which allows for early weight bearing and an earlier return to normal activities. 

Rehabilitation exercises can also help restore the following:

  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Range of motion 
  • Muscle strength
You may benefit from working with a physical therapist that can teach you the exercises and make sure you perform them correctly. 

RICE and immediate medical care are key parts of treatment:

  • Rest — Activities will need to be restricted.
  • Ice — Ice therapy may help relieve swelling.
  • Compression — Compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
  • Elevation — Elevate the area to help fluids drain out or prevent fluids from building up.
Surgery may only be necessary to repair a third degree sprain where all three ligaments are torn.

Reduce Your Risk of an Ankle Sprain

Many ankle sprains cannot be prevented. However, you can reduce your risk of spraining an ankle:

  • Take a break from sports or exercise when you feel tired.
  • Do exercises that strengthen leg and foot muscles.
  • Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities. This will decrease stress on all your muscles, ligaments and tendons, including those around your ankle.
  • If you have injured your ankle before, you are more likely to injure it again. You may reduce your risk of repeated sprains by wearing an ankle brace.
  • Wear appropriate footwear when playing sports to avoid injury.


Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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