Treatment of a sprained ankle
Treating a sprained ankle aims to reduce pain and swelling. It also makes sure your ankle can keep or get back to its usual range of movement as soon as possible. It can be frustrating, but it may take several months to recover from a sprained ankle, especially if it’s very bad. So, you may need to be patient and follow treatment advice carefully. You may need to use a mixture of self-care, medicines and exercises.
Self help for a sprained ankle
If you have a sprained ankle, there’s a lot you can do to ease your symptoms in the first few days. If you see a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist, they’ll probably advise you to follow the steps below.
Medicines for a sprained ankle
You can take certain over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, to help ease your ankle pain. If over-the-counter painkillers don’t help, your doctor may offer you a prescription for stronger pain relief.
Forty-eight hours after your injury, your doctor may also suggest you take oral ibuprofen (such as tablets or capsules). Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory as well as a painkiller, so will help to reduce the swelling around your sprained ankle. It’s best not to use oral ibuprofen and other similar medicines in the first two days after your injury as they may delay healing.
Ibuprofen and other similar medicines are also available as gels and creams (topical medicines). You can use topical painkillers as soon as you hurt your ankle to help relieve your pain.
Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine. If you have questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.
Exercise and movement for a sprained ankle
The right time to start exercising your ankle usually depends on how bad it is.
If your ankle sprain is mild, you should start moving your ankle as soon as you can. Once your pain isn’t too bad, start doing some gentle exercises too. These may help prevent stiffness and will eventually get your ankle moving normally. But if you’re at all worried about doing exercises or feel any pain, stop and speak to a doctor, nurse or physiotherapist before continuing.
After a mild or moderate sprain
In the first few weeks when you’re recovering from a mild or moderate sprain, you could try doing the following exercise every so often. Physiotherapists call this ‘plantarflexion / dorsiflexion’ and it helps keep the muscles stretched so you don’t lose the range of movement in the ankle joint.
- Sit down comfortably in a chair.
- Hold your leg out quite straight.
- Gently stretch your foot upwards towards your body as far as feels comfortable.
- Hold for five seconds.
- Point your foot in the opposite direction, away from your body, and do the same for five seconds.
Another stretch you could do is called a ‘seated heel raise’.
- Sit down in a chair with both of your feet flat on the floor.
- Keeping your toes touching the floor, raise your heels up as far as feels comfortable.
- Slowly lower your heels back to the starting point.
If you have a bad sprain
If you have a bad sprain, your doctor may advise you to immobilise it. This means keeping your ankle still, and will probably only be for a few days. Your doctor may also advise you to wear a below-knee cast or brace. This may help to reduce any pain and swelling around your ankle quicker than a compression bandage.
If you’re not sure when and how to start exercising your ankle, ask your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist and follow their advice.
Physiotherapy for a sprained ankle
If your sprained ankle is very bad, you may benefit from physiotherapy. This aims to keep your ankle moving, prevents stiffness and strengthens the muscles and joints around your ankle. Having strong ankle muscles and joints may mean you’re less likely to sprain your ankle again.
Your physiotherapist may ask you to focus on building your strength and mobility through co-ordination exercises and balance training. It’s important to stick to the exercise plan your physiotherapist recommends.
Surgery for a sprained ankle
If you sprain your ankle, it’s very unlikely you’ll need to have surgery. But if your ankle is badly sprained, still feels wobbly and keeps getting sprained or giving way causing you to fall, it’s possible your doctor may recommend surgery. You’re more likely to need surgery if you play sports, or are an athlete, at a professional level. Your doctor may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon (a doctor who specialises in bone surgery).