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Sep 11, 2023

Ankle Sprain Recovery Time: What You Need to Know

A young man holds his ankle in pain, he's just sprained it - he's probably asking what is the ankle sprain recovery time

You suddenly feel pain in your ankle after a long workout, run, or intense burst of energy. You may still be able to walk, one wince at a time, but you’re now wondering about your plans. What is the ankle sprain recovery time? Will this take you down for a few days or longer? A number of factors impact how long it will take for your ankle to heal and for you to get back to being as active as you were.

A sprained ankle is a relatively common injury to the ligaments that help your ankle remain stable during movement. The ligaments here are pulled tightly to allow them to work properly, but overexerting them can lead to injury. This can lead to stretching, or, in some cases, it may cause a tear in the ligament itself. Falling or tripping and twisting your ankle can cause this.

Sprained Ankle Symptoms

Any type of pain in your ankle, foot, or calf shouldn’t be ignored. Without proper attention and continued use, you could injure that muscle more so, increasing the pain and discomfort and extending the recovery time. The most common symptoms associated with a sprained ankle include:

  • Trouble walking or feeling the need to walk gingerly
  • Areas on or near the ankle that are sensitive to touch
  • Pain when stepping or putting weight on the ankle
  • Swelling of the ankle, foot, and calf
  • Bruising and discoloration of the skin in this area

The most common causes of a sprained ankle include:

  • Tripping due to an uneven surface
  • A fall in which your body twists as you tumble
  • Losing balance
  • Landing poorly after jumping
  • Kicking, running, or engaging in sports like basketball or tennis in which you are twisting and turning often

In situations where you’ve suffered an injury during one of these types of events and your symptoms are like those listed here, it’s likely that you need to seek medical care for your sprained ankle.

Ankle Sprain Grades

How long does a sprained ankle take to heal? One of the factors in determining this is the grade, or severity, of the injury. The more significant the stretched ligament or, in cases where tears exist, the more significant that damage is, the longer it will take to heal. Consider the following three grades of a sprained ankle.

Grade 1

This is the most minimal level of damage to the ligament. You may have some pain and discomfort, especially with any pressure on the area. The area may swell for a short time and may be tender to the touch. Most of the time, you can still walk, and you don’t feel as though the joint is going to give out on you when you do.

In this situation, you are likely to need 1 to 3 weeks to heal fully. You may not need any advanced treatment in this case. In an otherwise healthy person, this type of injury will heal over a short period of time with rest and stretching it. If you’ve had more than one Grade 1 ankle sprain in a short time, physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen the area.

Grade 2

A Grade 2 sprain has more pain, but it’s not excruciating. There’s tenderness with the slighest of touch, and you may have some bruising of the area. You feel shaking when stepping on your foot with this type of injury, though you can likely still move around fairly well. There’s some range of motion and function changes associated with this condition.

Listen to your body here. If you have pain when walking, don’t put pressure on it. At this level, you may also benefit from treatment from a doctor or a physical therapist. The recovery time from a Grade 2 sprain is generally about 3 to 6 weeks. This is often necessary because a partial tear has occurred in the ligament.

Grade 3

The worst level of injury is a Grade 3 ankle sprain. In this situation, there’s a full tear of the ligament or a rupture of it, which in all situations means that you’ll need more time to heal and more care during the process. Most people will have severe pain that doesn’t improve much by not walking on it. You may also have bruising, swelling, and significant instability. Often, this leads to a loss of function, and twisting or moving the ankle isn’t possible.

At a Grade 3 injury, you will likely be unable to walk or bear weight. The recovery time for this level of injury may be several months.

What Is the Recovery Time?

To determine the ankle sprain recovery time in your situation, work with your doctor to gain more insight into the condition and treatment plan. Most often, the better you take care of your injury by staying off of it and getting therapy, the sooner you’ll heal. Yet, things like your body’s ability to heal and the amount of damage to other muscles can also play a role in how long it takes.

How to Treat a Sprained Ankle

the same young man is seen resting along the trail - he's healed now and knows how long does a sprained ankle take to heal

As a type of injury that may require physical therapy, it is a good idea to start with an appointment with your physical therapist or doctor to discuss the best treatment for your needs if you have a Grade 3 injury. This may require surgery. For Grades 1 and 2, consider the following.

  • Rest your ankle. Avoid walking on it or putting weight on it. If there’s pain, simply don’t step down.
  • Use ice on the ankle right after it occurs. This will help to reduce the swelling you have. It may also be continued during your recovery period several times per day.
  • Compression may also help to immobilize and support the injury as it heals.

In Grade 2 or higher, treatment may involve medications to reduce inflammation and physical therapy to help improve muscle strength. Some people may need arthroscopy or reconstruction surgery to repair a highly damaged area.

Getting Help Sooner Can Help

At Rock Valley Physical Therapy, we work with you to treat your injury with proper therapy based on your needs. We encourage you to start therapy sooner rather than later with our team. Contact us today for exceptional support.