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Ankle Sprain

What Is Ankle Sprain

A sprained ankle is an injury that occurs when you roll, twist or turn your ankle in an awkward way. This can stretch or tear the tough bands of tissue (ligaments) that help hold your ankle bones together.
Ligaments help stabilize joints, preventing excessive movement. A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments are forced beyond their normal range of motion. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.
Treatment for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury. Although self-care measures and over-the-counter pain medications may be all you need, a medical evaluation might be necessary to reveal how badly you've sprained your ankle and to put you on the path to recovery.
Sprained ankles are the most frequent type of musculoskeletal injury seen by primary-care providers. More than 23,000 people each day in the United States require medical care for ankle sprains.
Ankle sprains are common sports injuries but also happen during everyday activities. An unnatural twisting motion of the ankle joint can happen when the foot is planted awkwardly, when the ground is uneven, or when an unusual amount of force is applied to the joint.


Signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • Pain, especially when you bear weight on the affected foot
  • Swelling and, sometimes, bruising
  • Restricted range of motion

  • Some people hear or feel a "pop" at the time of injury.


    An ankle injury occurs when the ankle joint is twisted too far out of its normal position. Most ankle injuries occur either during sports activities or while walking on an uneven surface that forces the foot and ankle into an unnatural position. The unnatural position of the ankle in high-heeled shoes or walking in unstable, loose-fitting clogs or sandals is also a factor that may contribute to ankle injuries. In addition to wearing faulty footwear, an ankle injury can happen as a result of:

  • Tripping or falling
  • Landing awkwardly after a jump
  • Walking or running on uneven surfaces
  • A sudden impact such as a car crash
  • Twisting or rotating the ankle
  • Rolling the ankle

  • Treatments and drugs

    Treatment for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of your injury. Many people simply treat their injuries at home.
    In most cases, over-the-counter pain relievers - such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen (Aleve, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) - are enough to manage the pain of a sprained ankle.
    Because walking with a sprained ankle might be painful, you may need to use crutches until the pain subsides. Your doctor might also recommend that you use a removable plastic device such as a splint.
    Once the swelling goes down, a physical therapist can help you with exercises to restore your ankle's range of motion, strength, flexibility and balance.
    Balance and stability training is especially important to retrain the ankle muscles to work together to support the joint. These exercises may involve various degrees of balance challenge, such as standing on one leg.
    If you sprained your ankle while exercising or participating in a sport, talk to your doctor about when you can resume your activity. You may need to wear an ankle brace or wrap your ankle to protect it from re-injury.
    Surgical and other procedures
    If your ankle joint is unstable, your doctor may refer you to a musculoskeletal specialist for evaluation. You may need a cast or walking boot to immobilize your joint so that it can heal properly. In rare cases of severe ligament tears, particularly in elite athletes, your doctor might recommend surgery to repair the damage.