Ankle sprains are one of the most common orthopedic injuries. Each year, hundreds of sprained ankles are treated by the EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region Foot & Ankle specialists, and by our orthopedic urgent care providers. In the event you experience a rolled ankle, you may ask: “How long does a sprained ankle take to heal?”
In many cases, these ankle injuries will heal with conservative treatments. For more serious injuries, pain, swelling, or instability may persist. In that event, more intensive treatment options may be needed.
How Do Ankle Sprains Happen?
As Dr. Nicholas Viens, Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon in Durham and Chapel Hill, explains, “It’s not just a sports injury. It can happen anywhere, anytime.”
Common causes include:
- Sudden, unnatural movements
- Traumatic impacts
- Extreme overuse
Dr. Viens is fellowship-trained in foot and ankle surgery and treats patients with mild to severe ankle sprains. “People can sprain their ankles walking down the sidewalk, running on a trail, stepping out of a car, or carrying a child and not noticing a toy on the ground. Patients can get injured at work, whether at a construction site or in an office.”
So how long does a sprained ankle take to heal, and what kinds of treatments are appropriate for a mild sprain?
What Are Good Treatments for a Mild Ankle Sprain?
If you’ve experienced a mild injury to the ligaments of the ankle, simple measures can be taken to treat the injury:
- Applying RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) to the injured area can relieve pain and swelling, and enable healing.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken to reduce swelling.
- Compression wraps can help to limit movement that may cause additional damage.
Even in cases of mild sprains, talking to your doctor about appropriate treatments should always be the first step you take.
How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Take to Heal?
Mild, low-grade ankle sprains will usually heal in one to three weeks with proper rest and non-surgical care (such as applying ice).
Moderate injuries may take between three and four weeks. Because of limited blood flow to the ligaments of the ankle, more severe injuries may take between three and six months to heal.
How Do You Treat a More Severe Ankle Sprain?
Research demonstrates that one to two out of 10 people who have had a third-degree ankle sprain experience chronic ankle instability. Ankle instability leaves the ankle at a much higher risk for unexpected ankle twists and increased sprains.
The type of treatment utilized for your case will vary depending on the type and severity of your sprain. Most likely, your treatment will involve one or more of the following:
- For more severe ankle sprains, immobilization is often needed. Your doctor may fit you in a boot or prescribe crutches for some time to prevent movement of the ankle joint, and to allow the ankle to heal.
- Physical therapy is often an integral part of treating an ankle sprain. Our physicians often prescribe physical therapy as a way to see if you can get better on your own or if more action may be needed. Our Physical Therapists work with you as a team to build back strength, range of motion, stability, and confidence on your feet.
- If inflammation won’t go away following these other measures, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections.
When is an Ankle Sprain More Than an Ankle Sprain?
Close consultation with an orthopedic specialist is important, as other injuries often occur along with a strained ankle. A sprain might mask something more serious, like a fracture, stretched or torn tendons, torn ligaments, or a cartilage injury.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, then the first step is to consult with an orthopedic physician who specializes in the foot and ankle:
- Persistent swelling
- Feelings of instability
- Trouble on uneven ground
- Weakness in the ankle
- General discomfort
If these symptoms sound familiar, then you may be suffering from something more than an ankle sprain. If the sprain is not getting better, It is always best to be proactive. Untreated conditions can worsen into chronic ankle sprains and instability, which can be debilitating in the long term. This may make arthritis of the ankle more likely, especially if the ankle is allowed to continue to deteriorate.
Treating Serious Ankle Injuries
Diagnostic imaging is the next step in determining the best method to treat your ankle. With an MRI, an orthopedic provider can work with you on an approach to treat any underlying conditions or extensive injuries.
“Sometimes, surgery is necessary,” explains Dr. Viens. The procedure can be anything from minimally-invasive arthroscopy to a ligament tightening procedure. Chronic ankle instability occurs when ligaments and tissue aren’t sufficient to stabilize the ankle.
In these cases, they must be recreated. Advanced technology and a better understanding of ankle ligaments have enabled EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region to offer procedures to anatomically reconstruct the ligament to create a stable ankle.
Want to understand how a sprained ankle takes to heal?
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a sprained ankle. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the emergeortho.com site.