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December 4, 2012

How to Treat a Sprained Ankle

Sprained ankles are a common injury – and it doesn’t only happen to athletes.

Q: My daughter sprained her ankle playing basketball. What can we do to help her recover quickly?

Sprained ankles are a common injury – and it doesn’t only happen to athletes. Anyone can sprain her ankle by simply stepping down on an uneven surface or stepping down at an angle. An ankle sprain happens when the ligaments holding the ankle bones and joints in position are stretched beyond their normal limits and tear.

You say you want your daughter to recover “quickly,” but you don’t want to rush the healing process. With an ankle injury, it may take up to six weeks for a full recovery depending on the severity of the injury.

Walking can be difficult and painful after a sprain. If it hurts too much to walk, your daughter may need crutches to get around. She can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help with the pain.

For most ankle sprains, the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) will help the healing process:

  • Rest your ankle by not walking on it.
  • Ice should be immediately applied. It keeps the swelling down. It can be used for 20 minutes to 30 minutes, three or four times daily. Combine ice with wrapping to decrease swelling, pain and dysfunction.
  • Compression dressings, bandages or ace-wraps immobilize and support the injured ankle.
  • Elevate your ankle above your heart level for 48 hours after the injury.

In the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury, using RICE is very important to help limit swelling. The more swelling there is, the longer it can take to heal.

Pain and swelling should begin to subside within two to three days. If you don’t notice any improvements in that time and you haven’t seen a doctor yet, please schedule a visit to make sure it’s “just” a sprain and not something more. There are also three different grades of sprain and a more severe sprain may require additional treatments, such as applying a splint.

As the ankle starts to feel better, have your daughter begin stretching exercises with her ankle to help strengthen the ligaments. When she does return to the court, she should have her ankle taped or she should wear a supportive ankle brace to prevent another injury.

It can take six weeks to heal from an ankle sprain. If severe pain persists beyond that time, medical care should be sought.

By Richard Canlas, MD, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.