Ankle Sprain


Ligaments are injured when a greater than normal stretching force is applied to them. This happens most commonly when the foot is turned inward or inverted. This kind of injury can happen in the following ways:

  • Awkwardly planting the foot when running, stepping up or down, or during simple tasks such as getting out of bed
  • Stepping on a surface that is irregular, such as stepping in a hole
  • Athletic events when one player steps on another player (A common example is a basketball player who goes up for a rebound and comes down on top of another player's foot. This can cause the rebounder's foot to roll inward.)
  • Inversion injuries, in which the foot rolls inward, are more common than eversion injuries (also referred to as a high ankle sprain), in which the foot twists outward.


Tissue injury and inflammation occur when an ankle is sprained. Blood vessels become "leaky" and allow fluid to ooze into the soft tissue surrounding the joint. White blood cells responsible for inflammation migrate to the area, and blood flow increases. The following are signs of inflammation:

  • Swelling, due to increased fluid in the tissue, is sometimes severe.
  • Pain: The nerves are more sensitive. The joint hurts and may throb. The pain can worsen when the sore area is pressed or the foot moves in certain directions (depending upon which ligament is involved) and during walking or standing.
  • Redness and warmth: Caused by increased blood flow to the area


Self-Care at Home

Care at home can help reduce pain and aid healing. Because most of the pain is caused by inflammation, the goal is to reduce and prevent inflammation.


  • Rest prevents further injury and avoids stress on already inflamed tissue.
    • Put the ankle joint at rest by wearing a brace or splint.
    • More severe sprains may be treated with use of crutches.
  • Ice is the best treatment.
    • Applying ice to the injury will do more for most people than medications.
    • Ice counteracts the increased blood flow to the injured area.
    • It reduces swelling, redness, and warmth.
    • Applied soon after the injury, ice prevents much of the inflammation from developing.
    • 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 30 minutes between applications. This is to prevent frostbite, which can occur if you use ice too much or use it directly on your skin.
  • Compression (sometimes called "strapping") provides support and helps prevent inflammation.
    • Elastic wraps such as Ace bandages immobilize the ankle.
    • Do not apply wraps too 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 the heart.
    • Sit in a reclining chair or prop your legs up with pillows.
  • Anti-inflammatory pain medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB and Advil) and naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn) will reduce the pain and combat the swelling.