What to Do for a Sprained Ankle to Speed Your Recovery

Immediate action can reduce recovery time for ankle sprains

ankle sprain rehab
ankle sprain rehab.

Ankle sprains are common sports injuries, particularly for stop-and-start running sports, field sports or outdoor adventure sports. Athletes often try to push through the pain of a sprain, or get back into sports quickly after a sprain which can increase the risk of re-injury.  But knowing when to rest and how to rehab your sprain can help you recover more completely and prevent future problems.

If you have an ankle sprain it is important to act quickly.

The recommended treatment is to follow the R.I.C.E treatment protocol and stop any activity and protect the ankle from further injury. Basically, sit down and don't attempt to walk on it right away. Do apply a compression wrap and ice  to keep swelling to a minimum. Ice should be used for about 15 minutes at a time and then removed. Leaving ice on any longer can risk frost-burn and cause tissue damage. Also. keep your foot and leg elevated to decrease the blood flow (and swelling) in the ankle.

It may helpful to use an nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication to help control inflammation. Studies have found that patients using NSAIDs after ankle sprains had less pain, had  decreased swelling, and had a more rapid return to activity than those who didn't take any medication. 

It's helpful to seek medical attention to get a proper diagnosis for your sprain. Ankle sprains are rated by the severity, and treatment and the amount of the recovery time you can expect generally increases with the most severe sprains.


The sooner you begin treatment for the sprain, the better. By trying to ignore or push through pain    and expect that a bag of ice on your ankle that evening will do the trick, you may end up with a sprain that can take weeks or months to heal properly. Most of the damage from a sprain comes from the swelling, so you first priority is to reduce swelling as much as possible, and to do that, every second after the initial incident counts.

If you play sports where an ankle sprain is likely (soccer, track, football, basketball, etc...) you should always have a first aid kit nearby. Such a kit should include compression wraps, ice packs, splints, bandages, NSAIDs and other basic first aid supplies.

For a severe sprain (one you can not put weight on), you may need a visit to a physician to make sure you don't have a fracture, ligament tendon damage or another serious ankle injury. In general, you should avoid putting weight on the joint as long as you have swelling. When possible, you should keep your foot elevated. Within a couple of days, your pain should decrease enough to allow moderate weight bearing without pain. As you are able to tolerate more weight, you can begin a walking and gentle stretching program to increase your flexibility.

Ankle Sprain Rehab Exercises

After your injury, you will be given an exercise program that includes range of motion exercises and a gradual progression to full weight bearing. One simple exercise is to draw the letters of the alphabet with your toes.

Gradual progression to weight-bearing exercises should follow.

Proprioception exercises and other balance exercises can help you recover more quickly and should actually be preformed as part of a prevention program. Poor balance is a good predictor of future ankle sprains. After an ankle injury, balance training is essential to recovery. In addition to our eyes and inner ears, there are special receptors in our joints (proprioceptors) that provide information about our position in space.

By balancing on one leg, you can reinforce and strengthen those receptors in the ankle. Balance on the affected leg and hold steady for 15 seconds. Continue to challenge your ankle by balancing with your eyes closed, or with your head turning from side to side. If you play soccer, balance on your sprained ankle and kick a soccer ball against a wall. If you play basketball, balance and shoot or practice bounce passes. Get creative with your exercise to match your sport.

Ankle sprains can be prevented by using appropriate equipment for your sport. However, sport-specific shoes and protective gear are just the start. To avoid ankle sprains, you need to strengthen your ankle joint and develop a highly refined balance system. And don't forget to keep your first aid kit nearby. Just in case.


Acute ankle sprain: an update., American Family Physician. 2006 Nov 15;74(10):1714-20.

Petrella R, Ekman EF, Schuller R, Fort JG. Efficacy of celecoxib, a COX-2-specific inhibitor, and naproxen in the management of acute ankle sprain. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 2004;14:225-31.

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