Understanding Medical Problems

What To Do For A Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle is a common injury many people will experience, at some point in their lives. Most sprains aren't severe and will heal within a few weeks, with conservative treatment methods. It's important to treat your ankle carefully and follow your doctor's rehabilitation instructions, however, because sprains can result in lifelong problems, if they don't heal properly.

RICE Treatment

The most common home treatment for a sprained ankle is known as the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Most ankle sprains don't require rest for more than one or two days, and staying off it completely beyond that may actually slow the healing process. You should walk at least short distances and begin slow range of movement exercises, in your ankle, after the first couple of days unless your doctor advises you otherwise.

Ice can help reduce swelling and pain in a sprained ankle. While ice is an integral component of the RICE method, there is some debate about whether or not it is necessary, with some studies showing no clear benefit and others showing it helps. Icing a sprain is still common advice, however, so applying ice for 20 minutes every few hours isn't detrimental, except in people who have other health concerns such as vascular disease or diabetes. Ask for your physician's advice on icing your injury, if you have any chronic medical conditions.

Wrap your ankle with an elastic bandage to help stabilize it and reduce swelling. Start wrapping at your foot, the furthest end from your heart, and work your way up your ankle. Wrap the bandage tightly enough that it compresses your ankle, but not so tightly that it's cutting off your circulation.

Elevating your ankle above your heart helps the healing process by reducing swelling. Gravity helps drain excess fluid away from your ankle, to help it return to normal size. You don't have to keep your ankle elevated all the time, but it's especially important at night, for the first week after the injury or until the swelling has completely subsided.


Most people don't need prescription medication to control pain, after an ankle sprain. Over-the-counter acetaminophen is usually sufficient to manage any discomfort you feel for the first few days following the injury. Ibuprofen is another good medication choice, if you feel you need to take something that helps reduce swelling. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medications, including over-the-counter ones, if you have an existing health issue or take prescription medication.

Further Treatment

Severe sprains may require more treatment than what you can do at home. Some people need help from a physical therapist to strengthen their ankle and learn strategies to prevent re-injury. While it's extremely rare for a sprained ankle to require more invasive treatment, like surgery, very severe sprains that result in a complete tearing of the ligaments may require ankle surgery if the injury results in damage to the bones in the ankle joint.

Go to the emergency room if your swelling is severe, your ankle looks deformed, or you can't put any weight on it at all. Obtain injury treatment services if you've been treating your sprained ankle at home and without improvement.