A sprained ankle is an injury to the ligaments that stabilize the ankle. These ligaments connect the different bones in the joint to each other.
Ankle Sprain Healing Timeline
The recovery time of an ankle sprain is dependent on the severity of the injury.
Grade 1 Injury
In a grade 1 ligament injury, the ligaments in the ankle are overstretched. There is a bit of pain, swelling, and tenderness. The joint may still be stable and you can still bear weight on the affected ankle. This grade of injury takes about 3 weeks to heal completely.
Grade 2 Injury
In a grade 2 ankle ligament injury, some of the ligaments are torn while some are intact. There is pain, swelling, joint instability, and difficulty standing on the affected ankle. Crutches are usually recommended to avoid weight bearing on the affected leg. This takes about 6 weeks to 12 weeks for complete healing.
Grade 3 Injury
A grade 3 ligament injury is the most severe form of ligament injury. In this grade, all the ligaments are torn and they usually require surgery. Because of the surgery, they take a longer time to heal and adjust to the new structure that has been attached to help with the healing process. This may take 4 months to 12 months to heal.
Factors That Can Affect Healing Time
1. Seeking Medical Attention
When an ankle sprain is suspected, it’s best to seek medical attention quickly. Reporting it late can increase the severity of an ankle injury which in turn affects the healing time. A grade 1 injury may be neglected and subsequently, get worse over time, turning to a grade 2 or 3 injury.
2. Health Status
A person’s health status matters a lot in determining the healing time. Diseases like uncontrolled diabetes can cause poor wound healing. Also, people who smoke are more likely to have a prolonged healing time than people who don’t smoke.
3. Injury Severity
More severe injuries that involve the rupture of multiple ankle ligaments will take more time to heal than one that involved an overstretching of the ligaments.
Ankle Sprain Symptoms
- Pain at the ankle joint especially when you try to move the ankle
- Swelling at the joint, due to an increase in blood flow and the clotting process to heal the injury
- Difficulty moving the ankle joint
- Bruising or redness
X-rays, CT scan or an MRI may be advised by the doctor to ensure that there is no associated fracture or dislocation that may affect the recovery time. It also helps determine the severity of the injury and the integrity of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Ankle Sprain Treatment
1. P.R.I.C.E. Protocol
The PRICE treatment is recommended for the first 72 hours of the injury. The acronym stands for:
- P- Protect the ankle from further injury. If you are an athlete, all sporting activities should be avoided until the injury has completely healed and resumption of activity is approved by your doctor.
- R- Rest the ankle joint. This means using an ankle brace or a walking aid like crutches or a walking frame to let the ankle rest.
- I- Ice the joint in order to relieve pain and reduce swelling at the ankle joint. Ice causes the blood vessels to shrink and this swelling and pain. An ice pack or crushed ice in a damp towel placed on the ankle for 15 minutes every four hours will do the trick.
- C- Compression has been shown to reduce swelling by wrapping an elastic bandage around the ankle joint to reduce swelling.
- E – Elevation is the positioning of the ankle while you are at rest. The ankle should be elevated as much as possible. This is because gravity can cause a pooling at the ankle, increasing the swelling. It is usually advised that the ankle should be raised above the heart level to speed up recovery.
Anti-inflammatory medications are given orally or topically. These medications are prescribed by the doctor for a certain period of time.
Physiotherapy prepares the injured ankle to return to its pre-injury phase. The physiotherapist will assess the ankle and draw up realistic goals with you with the ultimate goal being to make the ankle act like it was never injured.
The goals of the physiotherapist will be to:
- Relieve pain which can be with ice, heat or electrical modalities
- Increase muscle strength which can start from static exercises and as the injury heals, the exercises change and increase
- Prevent joint stiffness which may occur because you are not moving the ankle
- Reduce swelling with ice, exercise or teaching positions that can help
- Train your balance and agility especially if you are an athlete
- Return the ankle to its almost original state
The physiotherapist will also give appointments to follow up on how the ankle joint is fairing and will also educate you on proper care of the ankle and avoid complications that may arise if not well adhered to.
Some complications can arise if a sprained ankle is not attended to early enough or if the injury is very severe.
- Recurring ankle sprain
- Ankle joint stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty walking or change in walking pattern
- Dislocation of the ankle joint as the ligaments may get weak and not be strong enough to keep the bones in place.
Preventing Ankle Sprains
- Maintain an active lifestyle. Exercising regularly will strengthen the muscles you are working on. Walking for an hour every day strengthens the muscle in the legs. If the ankle should unexpectedly twist, the strengthened muscle can help support the ligaments and stabilize the ankle for a while and help speed up recovery.
- Wear the right shoes.
- If you have injured your ankle before, an ankle brace can be worn to avoid re-injury to the ankle especially while doing a sporting activity.
- Ensure you workout on a well-leveled surface when exercising.
A sprained ankle recovery time depends on how severe the injury is, your health status and how soon you seek medical attention. It can take about 3 weeks if it’s a mild injury to several months if severe.
Ligaments are delicate structures and must be cared for properly to avoid any reinjury or walking problems.