What are ankle sprains? Signs and treatments

Have you ever rolled your ankle while walking, jogging, or just stepping off a curb? You’re likely not alone. Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries, affecting millions of people every year. They can happen to anyone, from weekend warriors to everyday walkers. 

While a sprained ankle can be painful and frustrating, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms so you can get the proper treatment and get back on your feet quickly.

This blog post of Capstone Medical Centre will cover everything you need to know about ankle sprains, from understanding the different types and grades to identifying signs you might need to see a doctor. We’ll also discuss treatment options and helpful tips to prevent future sprains.

Are Ankle Sprains Bad?

Depending on the severity of the injury, ankle sprains can range from a minor inconvenience to a significant setback. However, most ankle sprains heal well with proper care, typically within a few weeks. This involves the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and allowing your body sufficient time to heal.

The Spectrum of Severity

Ankle sprains are classified by the degree of ligament damage. 

1- A mild sprain (grade 1) involves minor stretching or microtears in the ligaments, causing mild pain, swelling, and tenderness. 

2- Moderate sprains (grade 2) involve a partial tear, leading to more significant pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking. 

3- In severe sprains (grade 3), one or more ligaments are completely torn, resulting in severe pain, swelling, bruising, and often the inability to walk without assistance.

While most sprains heal on their own, neglecting proper care or experiencing repeated sprains can lead to complications:

  • Chronic Ankle Pain: Even after the initial injury heals, lingering pain and discomfort can persist in the ankle joint.
  • Chronic Instability: A weakened ankle joint due to incomplete ligament healing or repeated sprains can make future sprains more likely. This chronic instability can lead to a feeling of your ankle giving way easily during activities.
  • Arthritis: Over time, damage to the joint cartilage caused by sprains can increase the risk of developing ankle arthritis, leading to pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.

Are Ankle Sprains Acute or Chronic?

Understanding the difference between acute and chronic injuries is crucial when dealing with ankle sprains. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Acute Injuries: These develop suddenly and have a relatively short healing time, typically weeks to months. Ankle sprains, caused by forceful twisting or rolling of the ankle, are prime examples of acute injuries.
  • Chronic Injuries develop gradually over time or result from an acute injury that hasn’t healed properly. They often cause persistent pain, weakness, or instability in the affected area.

So, are Ankle Sprains Chronic?

Ankle sprains themselves are acute injuries. With proper treatment and sufficient rest, most heal within a few weeks.

However, there are situations where ankle sprains can be linked to chronic conditions:

  • Chronic Ankle Instability: This can develop after a sprain, particularly if the ligaments haven’t healed completely or if you’ve had multiple sprains. It leads to a feeling of your ankle giving way easily, even with minor activity. This instability can become a chronic issue if not addressed properly.
  • Recurrent Ankle Sprains: Repeated ankle sprains can be considered a chronic problem. This can happen if you don’t allow enough healing time after the initial sprain or if you don’t address any underlying instability that might be contributing to the sprains.

What are the Different Types of Ankle Sprains?

Ankle sprains come in various flavours, but understanding the two main classifications—by location and severity—can help you identify the type of sprain you might have.

By Location

There are 3 main types of ankle sprains categorized by the location of the ligament damage:

  • Inversion Sprain (Most Common): This is the most frequent type of ankle sprain, accounting for roughly 85% of cases. It occurs when the foot rolls inward, stretching or tearing the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle joint. This can happen during activities like walking on uneven terrain, landing wrong from a jump, or changing direction quickly.
  • Eversion Sprain (Less Common): This sprain occurs less frequently when the foot rolls outward, injuring the ligaments on the inner side of the ankle. It’s more common in sports that involve forceful twisting motions, such as basketball or skiing.
  • High Ankle Sprain (Less Common): This sprain affects the ligaments higher up on the ankle, where the shinbone (tibia) and fibula meet. It can occur from a forceful twisting motion or a fall that lands on a bent ankle. High ankle sprains can be more serious than other types due to potential damage to the syndesmosis ligaments that connect the tibia and fibula.

By Severity

The severity of the ligament damage also classifies ankle sprains, typically graded from 1 to 3:

  • Grade 1 (Mild Sprain): The least severe type involves minor stretching or microtears in the ligaments. Symptoms may include mild pain, swelling, and tenderness around the ankle joint, but walking is usually possible with minimal discomfort.
  • Grade 2 (Moderate Sprain): This involves a partial tear of one or more ligaments. Compared to a grade 1 sprain, there is usually more significant pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking.
  • Grade 3 (Severe Sprain): The most serious type involves a complete tear of one or more ligaments. The pain and swelling can be severe, and walking may be impossible without assistance. There might also be a feeling of instability or deformity in the ankle joint.

It’s important to note that these are general descriptions, and the severity of symptoms can vary within each grade.

If you experience a severe ankle sprain with significant pain, instability, or inability to bear weight, it’s crucial to see a doctor or sports clinic for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Early diagnosis and proper care can help optimize healing and prevent potential complications.

Treating Ankle Sprains: RICE and Beyond

A sprained ankle can be frustrating, but the good news is that there are effective treatments to get you back on your feet faster. Here, we’ll explore the first-line treatment approach and when seeking professional medical help becomes crucial.

The RICE Method

The RICE method is the cornerstone of home treatment for most ankle sprains. It stands for:

  • Rest: This is vital to allow your body to focus on healing the injured ligaments. Avoid activities that put weight on the affected ankle or cause further strain.
  • Ice: Apply ice packs wrapped in a towel to the sprained area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. This helps reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Compression: Wrap the injured ankle with an elastic bandage to gently compress and minimize swelling. Don’t wrap it too tightly to avoid restricting blood flow.
  • Elevation: Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart as often as possible, especially during the first few days after the injury. This helps reduce swelling and promote fluid drainage. 

Over-the-counter pain medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage pain and inflammation associated with ankle sprains.

Seeking Professional Medical Help

While the RICE method is effective for most sprains, there are situations where seeking professional medical attention is crucial:

  • Severe pain and inability to bear weight
  • Deformity or instability
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Persistent pain after a few weeks

Might be interested in: How to come back to a sport after an injury?

Doctor’s Role in Treatment

A doctor can perform a physical examination to assess the severity of the sprain and check for ligament damage. They might also order an X-ray to rule out a fracture. While X-rays can’t directly diagnose sprains, they can help identify potential bone injuries. Doctors might use other imaging techniques like ultrasounds or MRIs in some complex cases for a more detailed evaluation.

Based on the diagnosis, the doctor will develop a personalized treatment plan, which might include the RICE method, pain medication, physical therapy, or, in severe cases, immobilization with a walking boot or cast.

Preventing Future Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains can be annoying, but there are steps to minimize your risk of future ouch moments. Here are three key preventative measures:

  • Proper Footwear: Choose shoes with good ankle support, especially when participating in activities that increase your risk of rolling your ankle.
  • Warm-Up Before Exercise: A proper warm-up that includes dynamic stretches helps prepare your muscles and joints for activity, improving flexibility and reducing the risk of injury.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Regularly strengthening the muscles around your ankle joint, including the calves, can enhance stability and support and make your ankles less susceptible to sprains.


If you’re in Southbank, Australia, suffering from an ankle sprain, Capstone Medical Centre can provide expert evaluation and a personalized treatment plan to get you back on your feet. Athletes seeking specialized care can explore the Southbank Sports Injury Clinic for a swift recovery. If you prefer seeing a doctor closer to your location, search online for Doctor near me.”

You can call directly or book your time online.