Ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries out there—and can be very serious, depending on the grade of the injury. A sprained ankle cannot only cause severe and lasting pain, but if not treated properly, it can lead to further damage to this important joint.
If you have ever sprained an ankle before, one of the first signs that something is awry will likely be the swelling. Since you are damaging the ligaments around the ankle with an ankle sprain, the joint can get quite swollen and black and blue. But how long should you expect this swelling to last?
It all depends on a few different factors, including the severity of your ankle injury.
The length of ankle swelling depends greatly on the type or grade of ankle sprain you are dealing with. There are three different grades of ankle sprains.
Grade I Sprain: The ligaments have been overly stretched, but not torn—causing your ankle to feel sore and slightly swollen. This ankle injury will subside in a few days.
Grade 2 Sprain: The ligaments have been partially torn. You will experience pain, swelling, and bruising and may not be able to put weight on the ankle.
Grade 3 Sprain: The ligaments in the ankle have been fully torn, causing severe pain, bruising, and swelling. It will not be able to support any weight.
If you are dealing with a Grade 2 or Grade 3 sprain, you have likely torn some of the small blood vessels in the ankle. When this happens, blood can leak into the tissue and cause a black and blue coloration, along with the associated swelling.
Typically, swelling will decrease within 48 hours. With more severe injuries, it may last longer. Swelling happens when inflammation occurs, and fluid builds up around the joint injury.
After your ligaments have been torn and blood vessels rupture at the site, blood will start to flow and accumulate around the area. This is a natural inflammatory response that kick-starts your body’s natural healing and protection process.
During this response, your body will also release inflammatory mediators, which cause your blood vessels to widen so more blood can go to the injury site and help the injury heal.
You shouldn’t return to physical activities until the swelling has subsided.
Typically, swelling will reside naturally within two weeks of the injury, even with more severe ankle sprains. If severe swelling occurs after this, you may want to consult your doctor for an ankle injury. If your ankle continues to be swollen for a long time, you may be suffering from a chronic ankle sprain—which can happen with some injuries.
As you wait for your body to naturally absorb the excess blood and fluid in the area, there are a few things you can do to help manage and decrease the swelling.
While swelling can be uncomfortable—it is a sign that your body is working to repair the damage you have incurred. The more you know about and can expect with post-ankle-sprain swelling, the better prepared you will be as you recover from an injury such as this.
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