Approximately 23,000 people sprain their ankle daily in the United States. This common injury occurs when the ligaments that connect your ankle bones and support the joint tear or stretch beyond their limits.
Symptoms of a tear include pain, especially when you try to put weight on it, swelling, bruising, difficulty walking, and tenderness to the touch.
Our orthopedic team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists sees patients with sprained ankles often and grades them according to severity. We then develop a treatment plan according to your specific sprain.
Here’s what to know about the three levels of ankle sprain and what treatment involves.
Ankle sprains are graded as 1 or mild, 2 or moderate, and 3 or severe.
Grade 1 sprains mean the ligament fibers stretched slightly or experienced a very small tear. You may have some swelling and tenderness.
In a grade 2 sprain, your ankle ligament has torn, but only partially. You’ll find that it hurts to move the ankle and that the joint is quite swollen.
A grade 3 diagnosis means your ligament has torn completely. You’ll have significant swelling and trouble walking. The ankle is quite painful.
If you’ve sprained your ankle, seek medical care, even if you feel like it’s a mild injury. Without proper treatment, rehabilitation, and healing time, you risk a re-sprain and chronic ankle instability.
Grade 1 sprains usually respond well to the RICE protocol, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
If you feel as if you’ve sprained your ankle, apply ice immediately for 20-30 minutes up to four times a day for the first 24-48 hours after the injury. Elevate your ankle above your chest as much as you can for the next couple of days. You can prop it on a pillow or stool.
Avoid walking on the injured foot, and use a wrap to immobilize it as well as support the strained tissues. Expect it to heal in 1-3 weeks.
For grade 2 sprains, we recommend RICE and a longer rest time. You’ll need to avoid using the ankle as much as possible for 3-6 weeks.
Grade 3 sprains require the most involved treatment. We may recommend you wear a cast, boot, or brace for a few weeks. You can then start physical therapy to rehabilitate the affected ankle. Expect a grade 3 sprain to take several months to heal.
In rare cases, a grade 3 sprain requires surgery for a full recovery.
Most types of sprains benefit from basic range-of-motion and ankle strengthening exercises. You can start these within the first 48-72 hours. They may include simple, slow pointing and flexing of the foot to ankle rotations.
As your ankle heals, you may progress to standing and weight-bearing strengthening movements.
Don’t go back to your full activity level until our team clears you. Returning to sports or exercise too quickly puts you at risk of re-injury or incomplete healing.
If you’ve injured your ankle and are concerned it’s a sprain, call our Bethesda or Germantown, Maryland, office at 301-515-0900 or set up an appointment here to get a comprehensive evaluation.