22 Jan Sprained Ankle Healing Time: Understanding Different Grades of Sprains
By Farhan Malik, MD
Atlanta Innovative Medicine
Affecting about 2 million people in the United States each year, ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries, and many people are left wondering what to expect of their recovery.
Depending on the grade of injury, sprained ankle healing time can range anywhere from one week to several months. However, with proper at-home care and professional treatment, sprained ankle healing time can be lowered significantly.
Whether you’re an athlete or just going about your daily activities, your ankles are prone to twists and turns and can easily be injured, particularly with sudden movements. To limit your risk, it’s important to understand these pervasive injuries and how you can reduce sprained ankle healing time to protect your musculoskeletal health.
In this article, we’ll discuss what ankle sprains are, how they happen, and what to do at various grades of injury. We’ll cover practical ways to manage ankle sprains, when to get treatment, and how to accelerate sprained ankle healing time through proper care. Whether you’re looking to prevent ankle sprains or understand how to treat an existing injury, Atlanta Innovative Medicine is here to help guide you to recovery.
How Acute Ankle Sprains Happen
Ankle sprains are the most frequent injury incurred in sports, and they are among the most commonly treated musculoskeletal injuries in the emergency department. However, they are not limited to athletes and high-intensity activities. Surprisingly, half of all ankle sprains treated in US emergency departments were unrelated to sports activities.
While impact during sports is one common cause, ankle sprains can happen anywhere, anytime. Whether walking down the street, jumping from a curb, or hiking a rocky trail, a sudden movement or misstep can roll the ankle and lead to a sprain.
Anatomy of an Ankle Sprain
To understand acute ankle injuries and predict sprained ankle healing time, we first need to grasp the fundamentals of ankle anatomy. The ankle joint comprises a complex of ligaments and tendons, including the lateral ligament complex, the deltoid ligament, and the syndesmotic ligaments which together provide the ankle with stability and mobility. When we roll our ankles, these connective tissues are what get injured.
An ankle sprain often begins with an unexpected twist or turn, causing the ankle to roll outward or inward beyond its normal range of motion. This overstretching or tearing of the ligaments results in the characteristic pain, swelling, and lengthy sprained ankle healing time.
Most commonly, the ankle rolls outward. This is called an inversion, and it accounts for about 85% of all ankle sprains. An inversion puts stress on the lateral ligament complex, which is made up of the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL), and the posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL), which stabilize the outer side of the ankle. About 70% of lateral ligament sprains affect the ATFL, which is the weakest ligament in the ankle.
An eversion sprain occurs when the ankle rolls inward, typically damaging the deltoid ligament. The deltoid ligament is considered the strongest ligament in the ankle, making these types of sprains very rare. Even more rare are high ankle eversion sprains which involve injuries to the syndesmotic ligaments that connect the ankle joint to the tibia and fibula.
How to Tell If You Have a Sprained Ankle
If you’re experiencing pain after rolling your ankle, there’s a possibility you’ve incurred a sprain. By recognizing and addressing the signs of a sprain early on, you can better manage and decrease sprained ankle healing time. If you’re not sure you’ve sustained a sprain, here are some signs and symptoms to look for:
Sprained Ankle Swollen: Ankle sprains often prompt swelling due to the body’s inflammatory response. The injured area may appear noticeably swollen, and the swelling may extend beyond the initial point of impact.
Sharp Ankle Pain and Tenderness: One of the primary signals of an ankle sprain is sharp pain at the point of injury. Pain is usually concentrated around the affected area, but tenderness can spread throughout the injured ankle.
Bruising: Sprains can cause damage to the blood vessels, resulting in bruising around the ankle. If you notice extreme or widespread discoloration, it could indicate a more severe sprain and longer sprained ankle healing time.
Limited Range of Motion: Because your ligaments are largely responsible for your ankle’s movement, damage from a sprain often impedes your range of motion. If you find it challenging to flex, point, or rotate your ankle, it may be a sign of a sprain.
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Instability or Weakness: If your ankle feels unstable, or like it’s “giving out”, this could be indicative of an overstretched ligament.
Difficulty Bearing Weight: If walking or putting weight on the injured ankle causes significant discomfort, it could suggest weakened ligaments from overstretching or tearing.
Rolled Ankle, Heard Pop: In some cases, you might hear a distinct pop when your ankle rolls. If this popping sound is followed by pain, swelling, and/or other symptoms from above, it’s likely that this was the sound of your ligament tearing; and it could suggest a severe sprain and longer ankle injury recovery time.
How Do I Know If My Ankle Sprain Is Serious?
Ankle sprains encompass a wide spectrum of injuries ranging from mild to severe. While some sprains may cause minimal discomfort and heal relatively quickly, others can result in significant pain, swelling, and prolonged sprained ankle healing time. To determine if an ankle sprain is serious, it’s helpful to understand the grades of severity and the factors impacting damage.
Types of Ankle Sprains & Sprained Ankle Healing Time
Based on the type, severity, and sprained ankle healing time, ankle sprains are categorized into either low-grade injuries (grades 1 and 2) or high-grade injuries (grade 3).
|Type of Damage
|Average Sprained Ankle Healing Time
Ligaments are stretched but not torn.
Usually lateral ligaments
1–3 weeks with proper care
Ligaments have partial or microscopic tears.
Lateral, deltoid, or syndesmotic ligaments
3–6 weeks with proper care
Ligaments are torn completely, and damage may have been done to other tissues.
Lateral, deltoid, or syndesmotic ligaments; tendons; ankle bones, tibia, or fibula
Several months, or less with proper treatment
Factors Impacting Severity of Sprain
Whether a rolled ankle leads to a grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3 injury depends on several factors at the time of injury, including:
- The speed at which the injury happened
- The rotational force exerted on the joint and its stabilizing ligaments
- The position of the foot during the incident
Beyond these circumstances, the preexisting conditions of the ankle—namely strength and flexibility—are another influential factor in the severity of injury and sprained ankle healing time.
Because of its impact on the ankle’s strength and flexibility, recurrent ankle sprains are one of the greatest risk factors. In fact, individuals with a history of acute ankle sprains have an injury risk 3.5 times greater than those with no history of injury.
When to Worry About a Sprained Ankle?
It’s important to note that all ankle sprains, even grade 1 sprains, demand proper care and attention in order to prevent the injury from worsening and to ensure expedient sprained ankle healing time.
That said, mild ankle sprains can generally be treated with careful and consistent at-home care. Moderate to severe sprains, on the other hand, should be addressed with professional help to ensure proper healing and to prevent any lasting impact on functionality.
If you don’t start seeing improvement from at-home care within one week of your injury—or if you don’t reach recovery within three weeks—it’s best to seek medical attention. Additionally, you should consult with a doctor if at any point you see symptoms of a grade 2 or grade 3 injury, like severe bruising, lost range of motion, or an inability to bear weight on the ankle.
Recovering from a Sprained Ankle
Recovering from a sprained ankle involves a combination of time, proper care, and, in some cases, medical intervention.
For low-grade sprains, recovery should involve a 24–48-hour regimen of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. As symptoms start to improve, you should gradually introduce range-of-motion and weight-bearing exercises to rebuild strength.
For moderate to severe sprains, receiving a professional diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan is recommended. Treatment can involve medication, physical and regenerative therapies, and in severe cases, surgery.
How Long for a Sprained Ankle to Heal?
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Factors Impacting Sprained Ankle Healing Time
To heal, the body requires certain nutrients, oxygen, and growth factors at the site of repair. However, during injury, inflammation and limited blood flow can make it difficult for the body to carry these healing factors through the body—especially to the ankle joint which has fewer blood vessels than other areas.
To support the recovery process and reduce sprained ankle healing time, we have to promote the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the ankle by managing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the lower extremities.
How Long Does It Take for Ligaments to Heal?
Due to their limited blood supply, ligaments are one of the slowest healing musculoskeletal tissues. This is one reason sprained ankle healing time is notoriously lengthy—because sprains primarily involve the ligaments. Again, the exact recovery time for ligament injuries varies widely, ranging from one week to several months, depending on the severity of the injury and the body’s healing factors.
Treating a Sprained Ankle
With an integrative approach involving advanced orthopedic techniques, it is possible to heal sprained ankles without relying on NSAIDs or resorting to surgery. At Atlanta Innovative Medicine, we take pride in our entirely nonsurgical approach that has helped patients heal from ankle sprains, ranging from mild to severe.
Nonsurgical Orthopedic Care at AIM
Knowing that every patient is different—with a unique injury and set of healing goals—our treatments always begin with gaining a thorough understanding of our patient’s pain and healing goals. From there, we tailor an ankle treatment plan that may involve a variety of techniques, including:
- Joint immobilization
- Fluid drainage
- Chiropractic joint manipulation
- Physical therapy
- Sarapin injections
- Regenerative therapies
When it comes to moderate and severe ankle sprains, regenerative therapies can provide that extra healing boost the body needs to recover fully without invasive procedures. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy and stem cell therapy are two of our most commonly employed therapies for this purpose.
PRP therapy works by extracting a small amount of the patient’s blood, processing it to concentrate the platelets and growth factors, and then injecting this enriched solution back into the ankle to enhance tissue repair, reduce inflammation, and accelerate the healing process.
Stem cell therapy involves extracting stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow or adipose (fat). These stem cells, which have remarkably strong regenerative potential, are then injected into the ankle to repair ligaments and other damaged tissues.
How Long Does Ankle Sprain Pain Last?
Theoretically, pain can persist throughout the whole recovery period, but with the right treatment and pain management plan, that doesn’t have to be the case.
AIM’s ankle sprain treatments are designed for both long-term healing and immediate pain relief. By integrating natural analgesics and anti-inflammatory techniques, our treatments begin alleviating pain fairly instantly.
By managing pain early on, we not only enhance comfort but also accelerate sprained ankle healing time. As your pain decreases, the stress on your ankle also decreases, conserving your body’s energy for a faster overall healing process.
How to Manage Sprained Ankle Pain at Home
Whether addressing a mild ankle sprain that doesn’t require medical intervention or exploring additional remedies to supplement professional treatment, there are numerous ways to manage pain at home, support your body’s healing process, and expedite your sprained ankle healing time.
Especially for the first 24–48 hours following injury, employing the R.I.C.E. method is an effective way to relieve pain and launch a successful recovery process:
Rest: Avoid putting weight on the injured ankle and limit movement.
Ice: Apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15–20 minutes every 2–3 hours to reduce swelling.
Compression: Use a compression bandage to provide support and minimize swelling.
Elevation: Elevate the injured ankle above heart level when possible to reduce swelling.
Some additional practices to alleviate pain and support your body’s healing process include:
- Soaking your ankle in warm water with Epsom salt
- Drinking teas with green tea, turmeric (curcumin), and ginger, which have anti-inflammatory properties
- Getting plenty of rest and sleep
- Staying well hydrated
- Using an ankle brace or wrap during physical activity
- Wearing proper footwear when moving around
Can I Walk on a Sprained Ankle If It Hurts?
It’s generally best to avoid any activity that increases your ankle pain, as it could be making the ankle injury worse. That said, it’s important to maintain as much movement as possible.
If walking on the ankle hurts, instead engage motions that don’t increase your pain, gradually increasing your level of movement as your pain level allows. As you begin to heal, you can start incorporating exercises to strengthen your ankle, decrease pain, and minimize sprained ankle healing time.
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How to Strengthen Ankle Post-Injury
The importance of strengthening exercises cannot be overstated, as they contribute significantly to restoring stability, reducing vulnerability to future injuries, accelerating sprained ankle healing time, and promoting overall joint health.
Weak ankles are more susceptible to strain, and by building strength, you create a supportive framework that safeguards against the recurrence of sprains or other injuries.
Range of Motion Exercises:
Ankle Circles: Rotate your ankle in a circular motion, both clockwise and counterclockwise.
Alphabet Writing with Your Toes: Imagine the alphabet and use your toes to “write” the letters in the air.
Strength Training Exercises:
Calf Raises: Stand on a flat surface, rise onto your toes, and then lower your heels back down.
Toe Taps: Sit with your legs extended, tap your toes on the floor, alternating between feet.
Resistance Band Exercises: Secure a resistance band around a fixed point and perform various ankle movements against the resistance.
Single-Leg Stands: Stand on one leg for 30 seconds to a minute, then switch to the other leg.
Wobble Board Exercises: Stand on a wobble board and perform controlled movements to maintain balance.
In some cases, a professionally tailored recovery program can help patients significantly decrease sprained ankle healing time and optimize post-recovery strength and stamina. Whether seeking a full treatment or just strength-building assistance, Atlanta Innovative Medicine can help:
Our physical therapy experts are adept at creating customized plans that focus on your individual needs, using a combination of hands-on techniques and targeted exercises to ensure not only the fullest recovery but also the shortest possible sprained ankle healing time.
While ankle sprains are tough for the body to heal on its own, there is plenty we can do to aid the body for a quick and effective recovery. The key to a faster sprained ankle healing time lies in a proactive and comprehensive approach to care.
Learn how AIM can help you manage pain immediately, recover fully, and strengthen your ankle post-injury for healthy, resilient ankles:
Call 770.416.9995 or click the button below to schedule your appointment with AIM today.
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