A sprained ankle is an injury that occurs when you roll, twist or turn your ankle in an awkward way. This can stretch or tear the tough bands of tissue (ligaments) that help hold your ankle bones together. Ligaments help stabilize joints, preventing excessive movement. A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments are forced beyond their normal range of motion. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.
An ankle injury occurs when the ankle joint is twisted too far out of its normal position. Most ankle injuries occur either during sports activities or while walking on an uneven surface that forces the foot and ankle into an unnatural position. The unnatural position of the ankle in high-heeled shoes or walking in unstable, loose-fitting clogs or sandals is also a factor that may contribute to ankle injuries. In addition to wearing faulty footwear, an ankle injury can happen as a result of:
Treatment for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of your injury. Many people simply treat their injuries at home.
In most cases, over-the-counter pain relievers - such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen (Aleve, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) - are enough to manage the pain of a sprained ankle.
Because walking with a sprained ankle might be painful, you may need to use crutches until the pain subsides. Your doctor might also recommend that you use a removable plastic device such as a splint.
Once the swelling goes down, a physical therapist can help you with exercises to restore your ankle's range of motion, strength, flexibility and balance. Balance and stability training is especially important to retrain the ankle muscles to work together to support the joint. These exercises may involve various degrees of balance challenge, such as standing on one leg.
If you sprained your ankle while exercising or participating in a sport, talk to your doctor about when you can resume your activity. You may need to wear an ankle brace or wrap your ankle to protect it from re-injury.
If your ankle joint is unstable, your doctor may refer you to a musculoskeletal specialist for evaluation. You may need a cast or walking boot to immobilize your joint so that it can heal properly. In rare cases of severe ligament tears, particularly in elite athletes, your doctor might recommend surgery to repair the damage.