Ankle Sprains: Common Injuries

What is a sprain?

A sprain occurs when you overstretch or tear a ligament. Ligaments connect one bone to another at a joint and help keep the bones from moving out of place. Sprains are often painful. When two or more ligaments are involved, there is much more disability than with single ligament sprains. When the ligament is overstretched, it becomes tense and gives way at its weakest point. This will be where it attaches to the bone or within the ligament itself.

If the ligament pulls loose a bone fragment, it is called a sprain fracture. There are three types of sprains.

  • Mild (Grade 1) - Some ligament fibers are torn. There is no loss of joint function.
  • Moderate (Grade 2) - Part of the ligament has ruptured. There is some loss of joint function.
  • Severe (Grade 3) - The ligament is ruptured or completely separated from the bone. The ligament is either torn completely or 75% of the ligament fibers are torn. There is a total loss of joint function. This requires surgical repair.

The most common site of sprains is the ankle. Many are the result of playing sports like basketball and volleyball, but a sprain can happen to anyone. Just stepping into a hole will do it. 85% of ankle sprains are the lateral type. This is when you roll over the outside of the ankle.

How do I know if I have a sprain?

If you have an ankle sprain, look for the following:

  • swelling
  • bruising
  • pain
  • trouble moving the ankle

The doctor will examine your ankle and ask questions about your injury. An X-ray may be needed if the doctor thinks you might have a broken bone.


Think of the work RICE. It means rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

  • R - Rest means reduce your activities. Do not play sports until the doctor says it is okay.
  • I - Put an ice pack on the ankle. Do it two or three times a day. Ice it for 15-20 minutes each time.
  • C - Compress the ankle by wearing a brace or bandage. This will help keep the swelling down.
  • E - Elevate the ankle as much as you can.

Ask your doctor about pain relievers. They will help while you get better.


You will recover from your sprained ankle. How long that will take depends on how severe the sprain is. Mild sprains take a week to heal. More severe sprains may take several weeks or even months. Most sprains do not require surgery. Avoid exercises that cause the ankle to twist or pivot. This means no volleyball, basketball, football, or racket sports for at least two to three weeks. Normally, you can begin bicycling or swimming right away. Ask your doctor about exercise. Find out what you can do and when you can do it.

Keep the ankle wrapped throughout the recovery period. This will provide extra support. Do not wrap it too tightly. That could cut off circulation. Your doctor may recommend wearing a semi-rigid ankle brace.

Surgery might be used in cases where ligaments have been torn completely off the bone. Some doctors prefer to put the ankle into a cast and let the ligaments heal on their own.