Sprained your ankle? You’re not alone. Did you know it’s estimated that around 25,000 people sprain their ankles every day?1 This common injury happens when ligaments, which are fibrous tissues that connect bones and support your ankles, stretch and tear when your ankle or lower leg twists – say, while walking on an uneven plane or while playing sports like basketball, football, or tennis which requires you to roll and twist your foot. Usually, lateral ligaments present on the outside of your ankle get injured.
Signs Of A Sprained Ankle
A sprained ankle can cause pain, bruising, and swelling. It will also feel tender to the touch. If the ligament is completely torn or the ankle joint is dislocated, you may also experience instability – aside from the pain, of course!2
How Do You Treat A Sprained Ankle?
Treatment for an ankle sprain depends on its severity.
For a mild sprain with microscopic tears in your ligament fibers, which causes mild swelling and tenderness in the ankle area, first aid and rehabilitation exercises should do the trick. Painkillers may also be prescribed.
If you have a moderate sprain, where your ligament has been partially torn and you experience more pain and swelling, you may also be required to wear a cast or splint.
In case of a severe sprain, where the ligament has been completely torn and you experience instability if your doctor pulls on the ankle joint, you may require a short leg cast for 2 to 3 weeks. Sometimes, a severe sprain can lead to permanent instability of the ankle and you may need surgery to treat it.3 4
Your treatment will depend on the pain and severity of the sprain. But here’s a look at the broad steps to help you deal with a sprained ankle.
Ways To Treat An Ankle Sprain
1. First Aid
The RICE method is used as first aid for ankle sprains. This involves:
The first thing you need to do if you sprain your ankle is rest it. Don’t put any weight on it for 48 hours. The swelling and pain generally ease off after this period and you can then start putting weight on your injured ankle again. But start off slowly – the amount of weight you put on it should feel comfortable. Stop to rest your ankle if it starts hurting and gradually work up to using your full weight.
Apply ice wrapped in a towel for 20 minutes every hour to the injured area during the day for the first 24 hours. After the first 24 hours, applying an ice pack 3 to 4 times a day should suffice. Make sure you don’t apply ice directly to your skin or for a period longer than 20 minutes as that can cause frostbite or cold injury.
Applying a compression wrap to your injured ankle can help bring down the swelling. Special boots, elastic wraps, splits, and air casts can be used to do this. Your doctor will take a call on what kind of wrap suits you best and how tightly it should be applied.
Keep your injured ankle elevated above the level of your heart by using a pillow. This can be useful in reducing swelling.5 6
2. Natural Remedies
There are several natural remedies that can help ease the pain and reduce the swelling.
Turmeric Salt Lepa
Ayurveda recommends applying a lepa or medicinal paste of turmeric and salt to ease your sprain. Curcumin, a compound present in turmeric, gives it strong anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is also thought to reduce histamine, a compound that causes inflammation, and even increase cortisone, a hormone that fights inflammation.7
Mix salt and turmeric in a 1:2 ratio with sufficient water to make a paste. You can apply this paste to the affected part, cover it with a cloth, and leave it to work for around 20 minutes to an hour.8
Medicinal oils or thailams are used in ayurveda to relive swelling and pain. After applying an ice pack, gently massage the affected area with prasarani oil, a medicinal formulation which includes Chinese fever vine as a major ingredient, or vishgarbha oil, another medicinal oil made of ingredients like sesame oil, Indian gooseberry, and black pepper.9
Marigold or calendula is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Applying a marigold compress to your sprain can be helpful in easing pain and reducing swelling. Flavonoids present in this flower are thought to give it its healing powers.
To prepare a compress, first brew some calendula tea by steeping a couple of teaspoons of marigold flowers in 250 ml of boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes. Wait till this tea cools down and then make a compress with a cloth dipped in this tea.10 11
Roses are famed for their beauty and fragrance but did you know they can lessen inflammation? Antiseptic volatile oils and astringent tannins present in rose petals can help ease a swollen ankle. Simply make an infusion of the flowers and apply it to your sprain.12
Rehabilitation is the next stage of treatment. During this phase, your doctor will prescribe exercises that help you improve the range of motion in your ankle, halt stiffness, and restore normal strength and flexibility. The degree of rehabilitation and time required for complete recovery will vary depending on the severity of the sprain as well as the individual. However, a mild sprain may typically take between 3 to 6 weeks, a moderate sprain may need 2 to 3 months and a severe sprain may require 8 to 12 months.13 Here are a few exercises that you can try out but do check in with your doctor before you do so:
You can start with stretching exercises once pain and swelling due to the sprain have subsided. This could take 5 to 7 days. Try the following stretching exercises:
Exercise 1: Sit down and slowly bring your foot and ankle upward as far as you can. Take care to do this movement slowly and hold the position till you count to 10. You’ll feel a stretch in your calf while you do this exercise. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Exercise 2: Sit down and move your ankle downward and in, tilting it toward the inside of your leg. Hold this position till you count to 10 and repeat the exercise 10 times.
Exercise 3: Sit down and move your ankle upward and out, tilting it toward the outside of your leg. Hold this position till you count to 10 and repeat the exercise 10 times.14
Strengthening exercises can be done after you can comfortably bear weight and have almost attained full range of motion. There are several types of strengthening exercises. The easiest to begin with are isometric exercises that you do by pushing against a fixed object with your ankle.
Exercise 1: Move your ankle down and inward toward the inside of your leg and push against something heavy like a couch. Hold the position till you count to 10 and repeat the exercise 10 times.
Exercise 2: Raise your ankle up and move it outward towards the outside of your leg and push against the same object you used in the first exercise. Hold the position till you count to 10 and repeat the exercise 10 times.
The following exercises can help improve coordination, balance, and agility once you are on the road to recovery.
Exercise 1: Stand on a pillow using only your injured leg. Count to 10 while holding this position. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Exercise 2: Stand on your injured leg. Use a resistance band on your uninjured leg, which will cause it to be drawn back a bit. Now bring the uninjured leg forward and take it back to starting position. Repeat this exercise 10 times. Start slow and gradually build up speed to intensify the exercise.15
When Should You See A Doctor?
Without treatment, a severe sprain can result in a weak ankle that’s likely to get injured again. And repeated sprains can lead to problems like instability, chronic pain in your ankle, and arthritis. So make sure you see a doctor if:
- You find walking extremely painful or the pain does not improve with rest, the application of ice, and pain medication.
- Your ankle doesn’t improve after around 5 to 7 days.
- Your ankle continues to feel unstable or weak.
- Your ankle becomes increasingly black, blue, or red or feels tingly or numb.16 17
|↑1, ↑3||How to Care for a Sprained Ankle. The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.|
|↑2, ↑4, ↑17||Sprained Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.|
|↑5, ↑13||Questions and Answers about Sprains and Strains. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑6, ↑16||Ankle sprain – aftercare. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Turmeric. University of Michigan.|
|↑8||Castleman, Michael. Blended Medicine: How to Integrate the Best Mainstream and Alternative Remedies for Maximum Health and Healing. Rodale, 2002.|
|↑9||Ranade, Subhash, and Rajan Rawat. Ayurvedic Massage Therapy. Lotus Press, 2009.|
|↑10||McIntyre, Anne. Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005.|
|↑11||Calendula. University of Michigan.|
|↑12||McIntyre, Anne. Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005.|
|↑14||How to Stretch Your Ankle After A Sprain. The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.|
|↑15||How to Strengthen Your Ankle After a Sprain. The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.|