How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Take to Heal and Other Questions

When an Ankle Sprain Won’t Heal

Ankle sprains are one of the most common orthopedic injuries. Each year, hundreds of sprained ankles are treated by the EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region Foot and Ankle Specialists and by our orthopedic urgent care providers. In many cases, these ankle injuries will heal with conservative treatments. In more serious injuries, however pain, swelling, or instability may persist and more intensive treatment options may be needed.

How Do Ankle Sprains Happen?

As Dr. Nicholas Viens, Board Certified Orthopedic 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, 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.”

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?

Close-up of a medical professional wrapping a foot and ankle in a medical bandage.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 a period of 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 an ankle sprain.  A sprain might mask something more serious, like a fractures, stretched or torn tendons, torn ligaments, or a cartilage injury.

If you’re 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 isn’t getting better, It’s 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.

Diagnostic imaging is the next step to determine 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 better understanding of ankle ligaments have enabled EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region to offer procedures to anatomically reconstruct the ligament to create a stable ankle.

Dr. Viens shares one of the reasons he pursued the subspecialty of foot and ankle surgery is its opportunity for growth. “There are new technologies that have advanced over the last decade.  It’s an opportunity to help more patients who previously were told there were not a lot of great options for them,” says Dr. Viens.  

Dr. Viens treats patients in the greater Research Triangle Park area, at the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Southpoint offices of EmergeOrtho, often performing surgeries at North Carolina Specialty Hospital and Triangle Orthopedics Surgery Center. Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Emerge stronger. Healthier. Better.