Treating an Ankle Sprain

Ankle injuries are all too common in the sports world. Here are some tips to help you progress through the healing process.

Ankle Sprain

Most athletes have twisted an ankle at some point in their careers. Although ankle sprains are quite common, they aren't always minor injuries.

If your ankle becomes swollen or painful to touch after a twist, you may have sprained it. An ankle sprain (often incorrectly diagnosed as a twist) results from a stretch or a tear in an ankle ligament.

Depending on its severity, you may be able to continue your training. Or you may have to completely take weight off your ankle for it to heal. Only a medical professional can determine the exact treatment necessary. Seek out a trainer for an examination before deciding on the injury severity and whether medical treatment is required. (See How Severe Is Your Sprained Ankle?)

The following tips can help you through your healing process.

Step One: Treat inflammation to ease pain

Most professionals initially use ice to treat inflammation and ease the pain. It's especially important in the first 78 hours, when inflammation is at its highest.

Icing Tips

  • Use a cold pack for no longer than 20 minutes.
  • Place a cloth between your skin and the ice to prevent frostbite.
  • Perform every one to two hours.

Elevation is also important to reduce swelling. Try to raise your ankle above your heart for two to three hours a day. When you're not elevating or icing, consider wrapping your ankle with a compression bandage. This helps to control swelling and support the ankle. Be sure that the wrap is secure, but not tight enough to cut off circulation.

Another option is to take an acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (e.g., ibuprofen or aspirin) to help ease the pain and swelling. Both are available over-the-counter. Consider them if your inflammation and pain are not being controlled by other methods.

Step Two: Improve mobility

Mobility is the next step in treating your sprained ankle. The goal is to improve flexibility and overall range of motion. You don't want to force your ankle to where you feel pain. This can delay your healing. The following options will allow you to work in a comfortable range of motion.

Ankle Flex

  • Start by flexing your ankle comfortably
  • Hold for five to 10 seconds
  • Next, extend your ankle to a comfortable position
  • Hold for five to 10 seconds
  • Repeat 10 to 20 times

Ankle Circles

  • Start by flexing your ankle comfortably
  • Begin to circle it around in a clockwise motion for five to ten seconds
  • Repeat the process in a counter-clockwise direction
  • This helps the ankle move through its full range of motion
  • Repeat 10 to 20 times


This exercise works your entire body without putting stress on your ankle. The water will also help you to gently extend your range of motion.

Step Three: Improve strength

Once you have regained most of your flexibility, you can begin working on regaining strength by using a resistance band. Start by performing Ankle Flex and Circles with the band to add a challenge. When they begin to feel easy, progress to exercises such as Calf Raises and Lunges.

Standing on an unstable surface (a BOSU ball or wobble board) is another method to help build ankle strength. Start by standing on both feet. Then, when you're ready, try standing only on the affected side. As you become more comfortable, incorporate these exercises into your regular ankle training.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock