SPRAINED ANKLE RECOVERY TIME: A BREAKDOWN
Ankle sprains happen, and they are certainly no fun. The good news is, sprains typically don’t require ankle surgery, and there are many effective treatments and healing methods.
The time it takes to recover from sprained ankles can differ based on the severity of the injury, as well as other individual factors. Generally speaking, healing time can range from a few days to several weeks for a mild ankle sprain - a moderate ankle sprain possibly taking a bit longer. More severe ankle sprains or injuries involving torn ligaments may take several months to make a full recovery.
Let’s jump into the specifics of sprained ankle recovery time, and how to boost the healing process.
What is an ankle sprain?
If your foot turns or rolls in an unnatural way, it can force a foot ligament (the tissue that connects the bones) to stretch beyond its normal range.
The level of severity can vary between sprains:
- Grade 1: minor tearing of ligament fibers
- Grade 2: incomplete tear of the full ligament
- Grade 3: complete tear of the full ligament
Regardless of the sprain's severity, proper healing is vital. Whether you have slight tenderness and swelling or significant instability and pain, the correct rehabilitation, along with adequate rest, is essential for complete recovery.
The sprain scale grading system
As mentioned, the severity of your ankle sprain determines the healing time and when it's safe to walk or apply pressure again. A healthcare professional can evaluate how serious your sprain is.
Grade 1: This sprain grade indicates small tears in your ligament fibers, which may result in some minor swelling and pain
→ Recovery time: Approx. 5 weeks
Grade 2: This sprain grade indicates a partially torn ligament, which may result in more swelling and pain than a Grade 1 sprain
→ Recovery time: Approx. 6 weeks
Grade 3 — This sprain grade is reserved for the most severe ankle sprains, involving injured ligaments that are completely torn. This will most likely result in major swelling and pain
→ Recovery time: Approx. six months
3 reasons to keep off a sprained ankle
Immobilizing the foot with the use of supportive devices, such as crutches, an ankle brace, a boot, or an air splint, is essential. This will protect your ankle as it heals while allowing you to carefully move around.
Here’s why you need to immobilize and keep off your sprained ankle:
1. Ankle fragility
After a sprain, your ankle becomes vulnerable, disrupting your balance and impacting your daily routines. This condition may persist beyond the initial pain as your ankle strength and muscle memory slowly restores.
Luckily, most ankle sprains recover effectively over time with appropriate physiotherapy exercises. These specific exercises enable a faster return to your regular activities.
2. Pain and swelling
If you've had an ankle sprain before, you know about the pain and swelling that accompanies it. The idea of walking or putting weight directly on the swollen, painful ankle is usually enough to make you cringe, so you probably wouldn't attempt it.
Pain is your brain's signal that something is wrong. And while it can feel inconvenient at the time, it’s crucial not to ignore it. Pay attention to your body’s helpful signals, as walking on an inflamed ankle won't be productive and will worsen the situation.
3. Adequate ankle rest
The ligaments in your ankle consist of small fibers that need time to heal. During this crucial recovery period, your ankle also starts to reposition itself naturally. These processes don't happen instantly, and the required time may differ from case to case, so it's important to be patient and diligent in every situation.
Sprain healing phases
After these stages are complete, you can gradually reintegrate activities involving swift turns and movements to further strengthen the healed ligaments:
- Primary phase: Protect the ankle and reduce pain and swelling with ample rest
- Middle phase: Strengthen the ankle and restore range of motion
- Last phase: Slowly return to activity types that keep your ankle stable. This would be a great time to incorporate active recovery footwear into your routine for added support and breathability
How to treat ankle sprains
When an ankle sprain takes place, it's critical to make a recovery plan. The healing duration is typically around a month, though this may vary depending on the circumstances and person.
Most ankle sprains heal well in response to the following treatment options:
- Rest: Rest and protect the ankle immediately after the injury to prevent further damage. Avoid putting weight on the injured ankle by wearing a supportive device
- Ice: Reduce swelling and inflammation by immediately applying ice to the injured ankle. Use an ice pack or a bag of ice cubes (alongside a towel to protect your skin) on the affected area for 15-20 minutes every few hours
- Compression: Wrapping the ankle with a compression bandage can help control swelling and provide stability - just be sure not to cut off circulation by wrapping too tightly
- Elevation: Elevating the ankle above heart level using a pillow can help reduce swelling
If treatments at home aren't helping, it's a good idea to get your ankle checked by a specialist. They can assess the severity of the sprain and assist you in the recovery process, making sure your ankle heals properly and becomes stable again.
To treat your ankle sprain, physical therapists use various techniques and can determine when it's okay to apply pressure to your ankle. During physical therapy sessions, you'll gradually regain mobility, aiming to comfortably reintroduce weight-bearing.
The following methods may be used to treat your sprain and help ease the pain of movement:
- Therapeutic exercises: Physical therapists recommend exercises that focus on strengthening, flexibility, and balance for both the ankle and the muscles around it. These exercises aid in restoring regular function, enhancing stability, and reducing the risk of future injuries. They'll instruct you on the correct technique and gradually advance the exercises as you make progress in your recovery.
- Manual therapy: Hands-on therapy methods can target particular issues and support the healing process. These methods may involve ankle joint mobilization, working on soft tissues, and massage therapy. Manual therapy is effective in reducing pain, enhancing joint flexibility, and promoting the healing of tissues.
- Functional rehabilitation: Your physical therapist will help you regain your ability to do everyday tasks and get back to athletics or other recreational activities. They will lead you through exercises and activities that mimic real-life movements, assisting you in rebuilding the strength, balance, and coordination needed for particular activities.
Other treatment options
When ankle injuries or sprains are not getting better, you might consider seeking additional help for healing and pain management, such as:
- OTC NSAIDs (Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) *Always read dosing instructions carefully and confirm this is the right course of action for your circumstance with your physician
Recovery shoes for final healing phase
Once you’re ready to resume weight-bearing activities, choose your footwear carefully. Wearing recovery shoes can be beneficial during the recovery process from an ankle sprain.
Here are a few ways this type of footwear could potentially help your ankle sprain recovery:
- Resuming normal activities: Recovery footwear can assist in the gradual transition back to regular activities as your ankle heals. They offer the essential support and shock absorption needed as you progress from non-weight bearing to partial weight bearing and finally to full weight bearing.
- Protection: Recovery footwear can act as a protective shield against external forces, helping to prevent additional harm to the injured ankle while it heals.
- Comfort and pain relief: Recovery footwear has cushioning to improve comfort and alleviate pain related to an ankle sprain. Even weight distribution helps to reduce discomfort when walking or standing.
- Support and stability: Recovery footwear offers additional support and stability for your injured ankle, with cushioning and reinforcement that minimize excessive movement. These features lessen strain on the injured ligaments and encourage proper alignment.
What to do if pain and discomfort persists
If an ankle injury results in severe pain or a serious sprain, it's crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Don't hesitate to contact a healthcare professional if you're uncertain. Seeking appropriate, prompt care will help prevent potential long-term physical issues.
While pain and swelling are typical during ankle sprain recovery, don’t overlook these symptoms if they intensify or persist for an extended period. This could be signaling improper healing, a more severe injury, or the necessity for another approach in treatment. If you have concerns about consistent pain or swelling, consult with a healthcare professional.
A doctor or physical therapist will be able to customize a treatment plan that’s tailored to your injury or diagnosis. These professionals can offer direction and track your progress during the recovery process.