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Ankle sprains 101: Causes, symptoms and treatments

You generally know the moment it happens … You land too hard while jumping during a sport. You step into a hole and twist your foot while mowing the grass. You trip on an uneven sidewalk.

Ankle injuries are very common. In fact, about 25,000 Americans sustain an ankle sprain every day.

What is a sprain?

A sprain occurs when the ligaments in the joint are twisted, turned or damaged in another way. More than 80% of ankle sprains are due to inward rolling, called an inversion. When this happens, it causes the ligaments to stretch or tear beyond their normal limits.

What are the symptoms?

When an ankle is sprained, it will be painful and tender -- most sprained ankles can barely be walked on. Some ankle sprains make a popping noise when the injury occurs. Sprained ankles will usually swell and bruise, which is a sure sign something is wrong.

The following warning signs typically indicate a sprain:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness or warmth
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Stiffness (unable to move the joint)

While ankle sprains can certainly be painful, minor sprains will generally heal on their own without complications.


If the swelling and pain are minimal, then you can generally follow the RICE treatment plan (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for the first few days following the injury.

  • Rest your foot and keep weight off the ankle. Use crutches to get around.
  • Ice your ankle every 2-4 hours for 10-20 minutes each time.
  • Compress – Wrap the ankle in an elastic bandage to prevent swelling and bruising.
  • Elevate – Keep your ankle above heart level while resting or sleeping to decrease swelling.

Many sprains aren't serious and can heal quickly with proper treatment, but it’s always a good idea to get your sprain checked out by a medical professional just to be safe – especially if you’re seeing any worrisome signs or the injury is not improving.

Most urgent care clinics are open after hours and on weekends, offering a convenient option for care.  Indigo Health clinics also have X-ray services available onsite to rule out a fracture.


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