Recovering From an Ankle Sprain (and Avoiding Them in the Future)

Recovering From an Ankle Sprain (and Avoiding Them in the Future)

Ankle sprains are one of the most frequent musculoskeletal problems due to falls and sports injuries. Any time you can’t walk normally is disabling, especially if the healing period involves weeks instead of days, as is often the case with ankle sprains. 

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in West Memphis, Arkansas, and Collierville, Tennessee, see many patients who are dealing with ankle sprains

It’s important to receive proper medical care for an ankle sprain rather than going it alone. If it’s a moderate or severe strain and you don’t get medical attention, the ligament may heal in a stretched position, which can cause future sprains.   

Ankle sprains have degrees of severity. They’re graded from 1 (mild) to 3 (severe). The length of your recovery depends on the grade of the sprain. 

Effective treatment for recovery from an ankle sprain

Following are standard treatments for ankle sprains, with notes on length of recovery depending on the type of strain. 

Phase 1: Rest/immobilization

The first items of business for an ankle sprain are to stop putting weight on the leg and use the RICE method to calm swelling and inflammation. RICE is an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the leg with the injury. 

Use crutches or a scooter to get around the house, and ask for help from family and friends during your period off your feet. No matter the grade of your ankle sprain, you want to get off the foot immediately to prevent further damage. 

Apply ice packs during the first couple of days to reduce inflammation and swelling. Elevate the leg above the heart with pillows when possible. Apply compression as your doctor instructs. 

Use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain if you can tolerate it; otherwise, use acetaminophen. If you have a minor, or grade 1, sprain, the average healing time is about three weeks

If you have a grade 2 sprain, you may need a splint or brace on the ankle to keep it at rest during recovery. If it’s a grade 3 sprain, you might be wearing a cast for a couple of weeks.   

Phase 2: Physical therapy/strengthening

If you have a grade 2 sprain, you need to move into phase 2 of a healing regimen, which is physical therapy or strengthening exercises. You’ve partially torn the ligament and have loosened the ankle joint

Your doctor lets you know how soon to start therapy. Your goal is to restore range of motion and flexibility. You engage in strengthening exercises to bolster the muscles surrounding the ligament and may receive massage, ultrasound, or other therapy modalities during the therapy. 

Your therapist provides instructions to continue the exercises at home. Grade 2 sprains take about 4-6 weeks to heal. An ankle brace is a good support if you play sports and want to get back on the field.     

If you have a grade 2 or grade 3 strain, your physician may recommend a regenerative medicine treatment to speed healing. Your body’s own healing system rushes nutrients to the site of the injury through platelet-rich plasma therapy. 

Many professional athletes are using PRP therapy to get back on the field more quickly than with traditional treatments alone. 

Phase 3: Maintenance 

If you have a grade 2 or 3 sprain, your doctor may advise you to start walking on a limited basis and exercising the ankle without doing anything to twist or turn it. You work on increasing your balance and ankle strength. 

After a period of time, perhaps 3-6 months, you’re cleared to go back to your sport and the sharp turns of your feet (e.g. tennis, basketball) that are involved. You can’t rush healing of a serious injury. 

If your ankle has had serious trauma and a complete tear, you might need arthroscopic surgery to repair the ligament, although most ankle sprains resolve with conservative treatment

Avoiding ankle sprains

Following are some commonsense tips to prevent ankle sprains

Call Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine or book an appointment online today for all of your musculoskeletal needs. 

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