How to Treat a Sprained Ankle

Three Methods:Treating the Injury: The R.I.C.E. MethodRecovering from the SprainPreventing Ankle Sprains

Most people have sprained an ankle sometime during their lives. Maybe you were climbing the stairs and turned your ankle, or maybe you injured your ankle while you were playing sports. When your ankle is forced into an awkward position, you can stretch or even tear your ligaments. Fortunately, most sprains can be easily treated at home with a few useful tools.

Method 1
Treating the Injury: The R.I.C.E. Method

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    Rest your ankle. Skip any activities that cause pain or limping.
    • If you have a severe sprain, then you should walk with crutches or a cane so that you don't cause further injury.
    • Vary your exercise routine. If you're used to running on a treadmill, try swimming or using a rowing machine instead. Just make sure that you don't completely avoid physical activity. You still need to keep your other muscles conditioned.
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    Ice your ankle to prevent swelling and pain.
    • Apply ice to your ankle even if you plan to go to the doctor. Ice will keep your ligaments from becoming inflamed and will stop any bleeding if you've torn a ligament.
    • Place a plastic bag with ice on your ankle for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this 3 to 5 times daily for the first 3 days. Alternatively, you can fill a bucket with ice water and immerse your foot and ankle.
    • Leave the ice off at least 30 minutes between applications. The latest recommendation from athletic trainers is to apply ice for the first 48 to 72 hours.
    • If your foot or ankle looks white, remove the ice immediately so that you don't develop a cold injury.
    • If you have diabetes or inhibited circulation, make sure that you talk to your doctor before applying ice.
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    Compress your ankle joint.
    • Wrap an elastic bandage from your toes to your mid-calf, using even pressure. Keep the bandage on until the swelling subsides.
    • Loosen the wraps if your toes turn blue, feel cold or begin to feel numb. You don't want the wrap to be too loose, but you don't want it to be too tight, either.
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    Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart. Elevation will help to drain fluid from the injury.

Method 2
Recovering from the Sprain

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    Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Try acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.
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    Perform exercises to increase your mobility. Try some of the following exercises to help your ankle ligaments to recover:
    • Perform ankle circles or write the alphabet with your toes to start to increase the mobility at the ankle. If your ankle is swollen and still painful, the ligaments are still at risk of being further injured. So continue resting.
    • Sit in a chair with your injured foot flat on the floor. Slowly move your knee from side to side for about 2 to 3 minutes, keeping your foot flat on the floor the whole time.
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    Stretch your ligaments gently. After an ankle sprain, the calf muscles often get tight. It is important to stretch these to get your normal range of motion back. If you don't, it could lead to further injuries.
    • Sit on the floor with your leg extended out in front of you. Wrap a towel around the ball of your foot and pull the towel toward you while keeping your knee straight. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. If the stretch is too painful, start by holding it for just a couple of seconds and gradually increasing your time as the injury subsides. Repeat the stretch 2 to 4 times.
    • Stand with your hands on a wall and place your injured foot about a step behind your other foot. Keep your heel on the floor and slowly bend your knee until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat it 2 to 4 times.
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    Strengthen your ankle. When you can stand without feeling increased pain or noticing increased swelling, then you can start some strengthening exercises.
    • Place your foot flat on the floor. Push your foot toward a wall or other immovable object, and hold the position for 6 seconds.
    • Sit with your feet on the floor. Wrap an exercise band or other stretchy tubing around the outsides of both of your ankles. Keep your uninjured foot on the floor, and gently push your injured ankle away from the uninjured foot, stretching the band as you go.
    • Sit down and place your feet together on the floor. Push your injured foot toward your uninjured foot and hold the position for about 6 seconds.
    • Place your uninjured foot on top of your injured foot. While pushing down with your top foot, simultaneously push the bottom foot upward. Hold for 6 seconds.
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    Work on improving your balance. Balance is often affected following an ankle sprain, so you'll need to concentrate on improving your balance so that you don't repeat the injury.
    • Purchase a wobble board or stand on a cushion. Make sure that you position yourself near a wall in case you lose your balance, or have someone else spot you while you're working on keeping steady.
    • If you don't have a cushion or a wobble board, then you can stand on your injured foot and lift your other foot off of the floor. Extend your arms out to your side for balance.[1]

Method 3
Preventing Ankle Sprains

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    Warm up before you play sports or perform exercise. If you jog, for instance, start with a leisurely walk to warm up your ankle joint before you start to pound the pavement. Wear a brace if you need to while you are exercising to stabilize your ankle joint. Also, if you're learning a new sport, be careful not to play at full intensity until you're fully conditioned for the activity.
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    Use caution on uneven surfaces. Because your ankle is weakened by the sprain, you could turn it again if you aren't cautious while you're walking on a rough surface
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    Wear appropriate shoes. Some people find that high-top sneakers help to stabilize their ankles while they are exercising. No matter what your activity, wear shoes that fit well and are comfortable. Make sure that the soles aren't so slick that you risk falling, and avoid high heels for a while.
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    Try physical therapy. A physical therapist can give you exercises that will strengthen your ankles and the surrounding muscles so that you are less likely to injure your ligaments again.[2]


  • Make sure to apply ice to the ankle and keep it elevated.
  • Keep off of your feet/foot, relax it, high elevation is good for blood flow, so maybe relax it on a pillow or two.
  • Veterans of ankle sprains can often tell how bad a sprain is, but still see a doctor if you think you may have a second or third-degree sprain. You may need a walking boot or a cast until your ankle heals.
  • Ice the ankle in the morning for about 15-20 minutes, then heat it at night for about 25-45 minutes.
  • There are 3 degrees of severity in an ankle sprain.
    • First-degree ankle sprain: Some stretching or mild tearing of the ligament; little or no functional loss (the joint can still function and bear some weight); mild pain, swelling and stiffness.
    • Second-degree ankle sprain: More severe tearing of the ligaments; moderate instability of the joint; moderate to severe pain (weight bearing is very painful); significant swelling and stiffness
    • Third-degree ankle sprain: Total rupture of a ligament and loss of motion; gross instability of the joint with a loss of joint function; severe pain initially, followed by no pain; severe swelling


  • If you're in significant pain, request an x-ray to confirm that you haven't also fractured your ankle.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice pack
  • Elastic bandage
  • Over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Chair
  • Towel
  • Exercise band
  • Wobble board or cushion

Article Info

Categories: First Aid and Emergencies