While on the surface, a sprained ankle may not seem like a major concern, this unfortunately common injury can be painful and quite serious if not handled properly. Ankle sprains can happen to virtually anyone, not just athletes; someone has a workers’ comp accident or slip and fall injury. Some ankle sprains and can be very painful and even more challenging to bounce back from than certain bone breaks. This is why it is so important to understand the diagnosis and recovery process involved with a sprained ankle, including how long you can expect this injury to heal.
It only takes a slight wrong step to sprain your ankle and to stretch or tear the ligaments around this joint. Unfortunately, since ankle sprains are some of the most common musculoskeletal injuries out there—many people will try to “tough it out” when they hurt their ankle.
However, if your ankle is swollen and painful following an accident injury or slip and fall, you need to see a doctor right away. A doctor will be able to examine the foot and ankle and determine the type of sprain and the extent of your injury. If you don’t get your ankle injury diagnosed right away, you may end up hurting your ankle more and prolonging your recovery time.
By evaluating your symptoms, the doctor will diagnose your ankle sprain based on grades:
Grade 1- Minimal stretching, no tearing of the ligaments. Highlighted by mild tenderness pain and ankle swelling.
Grade 2– Partial tear in the ligament. Grade 2 ankle sprain comes with moderate tenderness, pain swelling, and possible bruising along with some loss of motion and function.
Grade 3- Full tear or rupture, accompanied by severe pain, tenderness, bruising, and swelling, along with instability and loss of range of motion.
For the first 24-48 hours following an ankle injury, you need to follow the R.I.C.E. protocol to help with pain and swelling—and to protect your injured ligaments from even more damage. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. You should be icing your ankle as much as possible for the first 48 hours and continue icing several times per day until swelling goes down.
Once you have been diagnosed with an ankle sprain, your doctor may also outfit you with splints or braces or use tape or elastic bandages to wrap your ankle. This provides stability while allowing you to have some movement so that you can do range-of-motion and stretching exercises to help restore basic function.
Expected recovery time for a sprained ankle all depends on the severity of the injury. Typically, once the swelling has gone down, your doctor will start recommending stretches and exercises as part of a physical therapy regimen to help you with recovery. However, if you have a severe ankle sprain, you need to find a physician, and may not be able to do much until the pain has subsided enough for you to bear weight on your foot.
A Grade 1 ankle sprain can typically heal within 1-3 weeks, while a Grade 2 often takes 3-6 weeks to heal. Unfortunately, if you are dealing with a Grade 3 ankle sprain, it can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to several months to heal, even with regular physical therapy. You will need to continue to rest and ice during this time to help expedite the process. Trying to walk on your ankle while its still healing can only cause more damage to the injury.
If you do the proper rehabilitation and give your ankle the allotted amount of time necessary to heal, you can get back to normal, healthy ankle function soon.
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