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How Long Should It Take for a Sprained Ankle to Heal?

sprained ankle treatment
Depending on the severity of the sprain, a sprained ankle generally heals within 2 to 12 weeks of home management with proper treatment.

Generally, a sprained ankle heals within 2 to 12 weeks of home management with proper rest, ice application, compression and elevation of the foot (the RICE approach). However, a sprained ankle may take longer to heal depending on the severity of the sprain.

  • Mild sprain, also called grade I sprain, involves slight stretching or microscopic tearing of the ligament fibers. It may heal within one to four weeks with proper care at home.
  • Moderate sprain, also called grade II sprain, involves partial tears in the ligament. This type of sprain requires medical attention and may take about six to eight weeks to heal with proper care.
  • A severe sprain also called grade III sprain, involves a complete tear of the ligament. It may take anywhere between 12 and 24 weeks to heal with proper medical care.

Thus, besides the type of sprain, provided care and treatment also determine the time taken to heal. Moreover, healing time may further depend on your general health and the presence of any underlying conditions, such as obesity or arthritis.

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is a type of injury that involves excessive stretching or tears in the ligaments that support the ankle. It is one of the most common sports injuries (about 25 percent of all sports injuries) and affects about two million people each year.

Nearly everyone has had an unpleasant encounter with an ankle sprain while running, playing or moving around. It is painful to even recall that awkward step or twisting of the ankle on an uneven road or a hole, turning physical activity into a nightmare.

Your ankle along with the foot bears the weight of most of your body. Ligaments are strong, tough, ropy soft tissue structures that help maintain the stability and strength of the ankle joint. They connect the bones involved in the ankle joint to each other and cartilage to joints. 

Several ligaments are present in the ankle, but the one most commonly injured is the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL). This ligament is present on the outside (laterally) of the ankle. Most types of ankle sprain involve rolling outward of the ankle coupled with the inward turning of the foot. This mainly injures the ligaments present on the lateral side. When the ankle rolls inward with the foot turning outward, the ligaments on the inner side may be damaged.

How do you treat a sprained ankle?

Treatment of a sprained ankle mainly depends on the severity of the injury but typically involves:

  • Taking adequate rest and avoiding weight-bearing on the affected foot.
  • Application of ice or cold packs for 10 to 20 minutes three to four times a day.
    • Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Applying an elastic compression wrap or bandage.
  • Elevating the affected foot above the heart level for two to three hours each day or as often as possible during the first 48 to 72 hours of injury.
  • Medications to relieve pain and swelling, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Wearing an ankle brace or splint to protect the ankle during movement.
    • A protective cast may be required to wear for weeks in some cases.
  • Rehabilitation exercises such as strengthening, endurance and agility exercises.
  • Rarely, surgery may be required for people whose sprained ankle does not improve with conservative treatment.

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