An ankle sprain is a pretty common injury, and you don’t need to be an athlete to experience one. It’s the most frequent musculoskeletal injury seen by health care providers in the US, and more than 23,000 people a day need medical attention for ankle sprains. Whether it’s from colliding with a friend while playing Frisbee, slipping on the stairs at the office, or tripping over an appliance cord while getting popcorn before watching a movie on Netflix – an ankle sprain can happen to anyone anytime, anywhere. And this sprain can be debilitating. The unpleasant symptoms and pain can disrupt your everyday schedule. Knowing the steps for making a sprained ankle heal faster can come in handy.
The good news is ankle sprain can be treated in a matter of days, and you can do home remedies to reduce recovery time. Since ankle sprain is such a common injury, people tend to just ice it and continue on with their lives until they feel ready to get back to their favorite activities. But to make sure your ankle truly recovers and to prevent lingering pain from becoming chronic, it’s vital to take an active role in your recovery.
About Ankle Sprains
Ankle sprains happen when the ankle rolls in or out suddenly, causing the ankle joint to move out of place. There are two main kinds of ankle sprain:
- Eversion sprain – It’s an inward ankle roll. This type of injury affects the tendons and ligaments along the inner part of the ankle.
- Inversion sprain – It’s an outward ankle roll that affects the outside ankle ligaments.
Both types of sprains can cause the ligaments to tear or stretch, and it results in varying degrees of swelling and pain.
Ankle sprains are also graded into different categories, depending on the severity of the ligament damage. Each grade has a different time frame on how soon it will be safe to return to activity. The type of activity you want to return to is another factor, as sports or physical activities that involve turning and twisting will require greater strength and stability than, let’s say, jogging or hiking.
- Grade 1 – It is characterized by light sprains in which the ligaments are stretched but not torn. Symptoms include mild swelling and pain but do not include loss of mobility or instability. It can be treated at home without needing to see a doctor unless you want medical advice. You can be back to your usual activities in two to three days.
- Grade 2 – This grade entails some tearing of the ligaments but not a complete separation. It can cause pain and swelling that ranges from moderate to severe and some instability of the joint. When you have a grade 2 injury, you must keep your ankle completely immobilized for several days. The recovery for this type of sprained ankle usually takes four to six weeks.
- Grade 3 – A grade 3 sprain is the most severe injury. It occurs when the ligament is totally ruptured or torn apart. Its symptoms include severe pain and swelling that it’s not possible to put on any bodyweight on the ankle. A visit to the doctor is necessary for this ankle sprain injury. Needless to say, this type of injury takes the longest to heal, and in some cases, it may even require surgery.
How to Make a Sprained Ankle Heal Faster
Whatever the grade of sprain you get, it’s essential to undergo some rehab or safe transition to exercise to minimize the risk of getting injured again. If you don’t have the luxury to take your time and let your ankle heal as time permits, you can do some steps to speed up recovery. Here are some ways you can recover from a sprained ankle faster:
React on it as soon as possible
The biggest thing to keep in mind, so your ankle recovers fast, is to take action as soon as possible. Don’t do what many athletes do when they get their ankle sprained while playing sports – ignoring the pain until the game or the event is over, then treat the injury afterward. Waiting on treatment will increase the swelling and put you at risk for more significant injury, which will be harder to treat and harder to recover from. So, when you get your ankle sprained, stop doing what you are doing and take immediate action to treat it.
Use the PRICE method.
One of the most common treatment methods used for quick and complete recovery from ankle sprains is the PRICE method. It’s an acronym for protection, rest, ice, compressions, and elevation. The PRICE method modifies the more common RICE method to include the word “protection.”
To recover from ankle sprain using the PRICE method, you must follow these steps:
To prevent further injury, the sprained ankle must be immobilized immediately. Avoid weight-bearing as much as possible. You may need to use crutches for more serious sprains. As you start rehabilitation, partially immobilize the joint using a brace, splint, or tape to prevent you from moving the ligaments while they heal.
Whether your sprained ankle is mild or severe, keep it at rest for the time being. It’s best to put little to no weight on it so that the tissues can have the chance to start healing without becoming injured. It also means limiting your walking and moving around (in the case of severe sprains, it may mean no walking at all). You may use crutches to keep weight off the joint.
After this period, you can resume activity gradually. Since exercise is a vital part of recovery, many doctors will prescribe a relative rest, which means that some movement can be beneficial to keep the blood flowing but avoid activities that put extra stress or cause undue pain.
The next course of action is ice. The best way to do it is to use a bag of frozen peas or corn or a cold compress bag filled with ice and apply it to your ankle. Apply it for 15-20 minutes at a time, and wait for about two to three hours before reapplication to avoid tissue damage. Do this three to five times a day during the first two to three days after getting injured. Avoid direct application of ice – use a towel between an ice pack and your skin to avoid freezer burn.
Compression involves applying pressure to the sprained ankle and its surrounding areas to reduce swelling. Try wrapping an elastic bandage or a tensor from your toes to about your mid-calf. Wrap it around your foot and leg as you go. Make sure that the wrap offers ample support while not being too tight that it causes tingling, numbness, or color change.
Since physical therapy is the best way to recover fast, many doctors recommend functional support over a cast during the rehab process. Functional support allows the sprained ankle to have some mobility while offering support to the ankle joint. It includes elastic bandages, braces, and tape or sports wrap.
The elevation is the fifth and final step to the PRICE recovery method. It means elevating your injured ankle above the level of your heart. For the first 24-48 hours after injury, try to lie back with your foot elevated. If it’s not possible to lie down all day, keep your leg propped up as high as you comfortably can while seated. While sleeping, place a pillow or two under the foot to keep it raised.
Elevating the foot can control swelling and prevent the pooling of liquid around the joints, which can reduce discomfort, help regain movement, and speeding up recovery.
Use the alternative POLICE method.
For decades, the RICE treatment has been used for sprain treatment, with price as its modern variation to include the importance of protecting the sprained ankle. But new research suggests that this may not be the best approach, as too much rest and ice may prolong the healing process. This is why experts recommend the POLICE method, a variation of the RICE method that involves the following steps: protect, optimal loading, ice, compression, and elevation.
The POLICE method deviates slightly from the PRICE method in that instead of rest, optimal loading is recommended. Optimal loading involves doing gentle movements such as extending and flexing the ankle to promote healing and prevent muscle tightness or atrophy. Mild exercise may help speed recovery, as it is good for blood flow and prevent worsening of symptoms. Gentle strengthening exercises are enough, and don’t continue with exercise that seems to aggravate your symptoms.
Do ankle exercises and stretches.
Certain exercises can help rehabilitate your ankle, such as balance and stability training and stretches that can improve stability and range of motion. Experts say the sooner you’re able to start exercising the foot, the faster the recovery. But make sure not to overdo it.
If you see a doctor for your injury, expect to receive an exercise program or physical therapy to start when acute symptoms subside. The therapy will include exercises to maintain range of motion, ankle strengthening exercises. This can help restore strength, stability, and flexibility to the injured ankle.
Balance exercises and proprioception exercises can also help you recover from sprain more quickly. These exercises must all be performed as a part of a prevention program to train the muscles to support the ankle joint.