How long does a sprained ankle take to heal?

Sometimes, it can feel like an ankle sprain will last forever. But how long should a sprained ankle really take to heal? Depending on the severity of the sprain, it can take anywhere from a week up to several months to heal.

Acute ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries and occur nearly 2 million times a year in the United States alone. While mild sprains can heal quickly and easily, a more serious sprain can take time and must be treated with care. 

Sprained ankle healing time

Inversion injuries, also known as lateral ankle sprains, are the most common type of ankle sprain. It occurs when the foot rolls inward, damaging the ligaments of the outer ankle. Depending on how severely these ligaments are sprained, healing time may vary. Let’s take a look at the different grades or severities of ankle sprains to see how long each one takes to heal:

  • Grade 1 — This type of ankle sprain results in minimal tenderness and swelling. Only microscopic tearing of the collagen fibers in the ligament has occurred, so you can tolerate putting weight on the ankle despite mild discomfort. Stretching and strengthening exercises can be helpful for healing. Healing for this kind of sprain takes an average of one to three weeks but may be as long as five weeks.
  • Grade 2 — This type of ankle sprain results in moderate tenderness and swelling. It also can cause a decreased range of motion and possible instability. Complete tears of at least 50% of the collagen fibers in the ligament have occurred, and you may need to immobilize the ankle with a splint. You may require physical therapy to help you regain strength and range of motion. Healing for this kind of sprain takes an average of three to six weeks, but may be as long as two months.
  • Grade 3 — This type of ankle sprain results in severe tenderness and swelling. It can cause significantly decreased range of motion and instability. Complete tearing or rupture of the ligament has occurred, and you will have to immobilize the ankle joint. You will need longer-term physical therapy to help you regain strength and range of motion. It may even require surgical reconstruction. Healing for this kind of sprain can take several months.

The kind of sprain you have will significantly impact your healing time and the recovery steps you’ll need to take. It’s important to treat each grade of sprain properly to minimize any long-term damage or discomfort.

How to heal a sprained ankle

If you have sprained your ankle, there are several immediate steps you can take to ease swelling and pain. The most common technique is called the RICE method: 

  • Rest — Avoid any activity that causes pain in the ankle. Rest your ankle and minimize walking for the rest of the day. This lessens strain on the ankle and reduces the possibility of worsening your injury.
  • Ice — Apply ice or a cold pack to the sore part of your ankle immediately. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin; use a towel or cloth for protection. Try alternating 15 minutes with the ice pack on and 15 minutes off as often as possible on the first day. On the following days, ice the injury for 15 minutes three times a day until the pain and swelling subside. 
  • Compression — A compression sleeve, elastic bandage wrap or brace on the injured ankle can prevent increased swelling, protect the affected area from repeated injuries and provide support for your weakened joint. Some swelling is inevitable with a sprained ankle, but too much swelling can immobilize the joint too much and make it take longer to heal.
  • Elevation — Elevate your injured ankle to a height at or above the level of your heart as often as possible for the rest of the day. This can help decrease pain and swelling, since gravity can make fluid pool at the feet. Try lying in bed and propping your foot up with pillows until it is at the correct height.

The RICE method is an effective way to handle the initial symptoms of a sprained ankle. With minor sprains, it may be enough to follow the RICE method for a few days until your ankle is back to normal. This method can also help with more severe injuries, but you may need to see a doctor or go to physical therapy to achieve full healing and range of motion.

When to see a medical professional about a sprained ankle

How do you know if a sprain is more than just a minor inconvenience? The key is time. If your sprain shows little or no improvement after the first week, you should consider consulting with your doctor or a physical therapist. They can help you determine whether your sprain is a more serious issue. At Lattimore Physical Therapy, we can treat your sprained ankle with effective exercises and PT techniques.

If your sprained ankle is keeping you from doing the things you love, contact our team today to schedule an initial appointment and see how we can help you get back in motion.

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