How Long Does It Take for an Ankle Sprain to Heal?

soccer player holding ankle sprain

A sprained ankle can stop you from enjoying basic activities like going for a walk, and it can be painful and inconvenient. Getting the right treatment from an experienced orthopedic professional can help you start feeling better as soon as possible. In this article we provide all the information you need to understand what an ankle sprain is, the different types of sprains, and the treatments available.

What Is an Ankle Sprain?

A sprained ankle happens when you twist, turn, or roll your ankle in an awkward way. This stretches or tears one or more of the ligaments in your ankle. These tough bands of tissue hold your ankle bones together and help you walk and run.

After a sprain, you could experience pain, tenderness in your ankle, bruising, swelling, and a restricted range of motion. Your ankle may feel unstable when you try to walk on it, and you may be unable to put much weight on your injured ankle and end up with a limp. The causes of a sprained ankle can include:

  • Falling and twisting your ankle.
  • Twisting your ankle while running or walking on uneven ground.
  • Landing awkwardly after jumping, pivoting, or turning quickly.
  • Someone else stepping or falling on your foot or ankle during a sport like basketball, football, tennis, or soccer.
  • Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly or aren’t appropriate for an activity.

If you have sprained an ankle or had another type of ankle injury in the past, you are more likely to develop a sprain in the future. You can also be more at risk of sprains if you have poor ankle strength and flexibility and participate in sports. When you start a new sport, exercising and building your strength and flexibility gradually can help protect you from injuries.

Types of Ankle Sprains

Doctors divide ankle sprains into three grades depending on the amount of ligament damage that occurred. With a Grade 1 or mild sprain, the ligament is stretched, or it has a small tear, and you will usually experience mild swelling and tenderness. A Grade 2 or moderate sprain often hurts when you move it. In this case a ligament is torn but not completely severed. The site of the injury may be swollen, and it could look bruised or red.

A Grade 3 or severe sprain happens when the ligament is torn completely. With this type of sprain your ankle often looks very bruised and swollen, walking is difficult, and the injury is usually painful even when you’re not moving. An inversion sprain or low ankle sprain is the most common type in all three grades. It happens when your ankle turns inward or outward and a ligament on the outside of it tears. Tripping and falling is a common cause of inversion sprains.

A high ankle sprain, also called a syndesmotic injury or an external rotation injury, injures the syndesmosis ligaments between the fibula and tibia. It’s less common than a low ankle sprain, but it often happens when people participate in sports. With this type of sprain, it’s possible for you to break and sprain your ankle at the same time.

There are three ligaments that could be injured in a high ankle sprain. The anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament runs in front of the two leg bones just above the ankle, and the posterior inferior tibiofibular ligament is behind them. The interosseous membrane is between the fibula and tibia, and it helps support these bones.

Treatment Options

A sprained ankle will usually heal on its own, but it’s a good idea to consult an orthopedic specialist to make sure that you don’t have a more severe injury like a broken bone. A minor sprain usually takes about two weeks to heal, but a more severe sprain can take around six weeks, the same time as a broken ankle.

To diagnose a sprained ankle, a doctor will examine your foot. The doctor will often order an imaging test such as an X-ray as well. For the first 24 to 48 hours after a sprain, many doctors recommend the PRICE method. It stands for:

  • Protection. Use crutches or apply a splint or brace to limit use of your injured ankle and help it heal.
  • Rest. Limit activities that could cause stress to the sprain such as running, exercising, or jumping.
  • Ice. Apply ice wrapped in a towel or a cold pack to your ankle in 20-minute increments, which helps reduce swelling.
  • Compression. Gently wrap your ankle in an elastic bandage to help decrease swelling.
  • Elevation. Keep your ankle elevated to help reduce swelling. When you’re sitting or lying down, raise your ankle and put it on pillows so that it’s higher than your heart.

For a mild sprain, swelling usually lasts for about 48 hours. With a more severe sprain, it could last until the torn ligament is healed. While you can usually walk on a sprained ankle for short distances, it’s a good idea to rest your injured foot as much as possible. Your doctor may recommend a brace, a splint, a boot, or crutches to help you keep weight off your ankle while it heals. If you put too much strain on a sprained ankle it could make it more painful and prolong healing.

Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to help healing and prevent long-term pain or limits to your range of motion. Physical therapy exercises can include controlled movements without resistance, strength training for the muscles and tendons in the front and back of your leg, balance training or proprioception to prevent future sprains, and endurance and agility exercises for the calves and ankles. Occasionally, a sprained ankle requires surgery when ligaments don’t heal properly on their own and a patient experiences lasting ankle instability and trouble walking.

If you’re suffering from a sprained ankle don’t hesitate to contact us at Orthopedic Specialists of North Texas to get detailed treatment options. At our clinic in Denton, we can provide the treatment you need to fully recover from your injury. We’re open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.


“Person in Football Kit Holding Sprained Ankle – Sports Injury” by Our SportingLife is licensed under CC BY 2.0