Ankle sprain diagram


An active lifestyle is one of the most vital means of securing a long, high-quality life. However, it isn’t without risk. Acute injuries like ankle sprains are commonplace on football fields and tracks.

While these sprains and strains are common injuries, abusing the overstretched or torn muscle can lead to more severe injuries and chronic conditions in the affected area down the line.

Let’s examine how to treat sprain and strain injuries. We’ll look at the warning signs like muscle spasms and when to consult your physical therapist for surgery on the injured body part.

How Can You Recognise a Sprain or Strain?

A bruised ankle showing symptoms of a sprain

Strains, sprains, and cramps are conditions that are so similar that they often have the same injured area. However, their differences are based on which kind of muscle tissue is affected.

Being able to tell the differences between strains and sprains will help save your ankle joint and prevent additional injuries.

Common signs of sprains and strains include:

  • Swelling and bruising of the injured area
  • Inability to put weight on the tired muscles
  • The muscles painfully tighten, leading to cramping
  • Pain and weakness in the areas around the injured ankle

When left untreated, soft tissue injuries such as mild sprains can weaken the injured joint. This can lead to other injuries and even chronic injuries the next time you undergo strenuous exercise.


Strains happen when a tendon, or the ligament that connects muscles to bones, exerts too much pressure on it. This leads to a pulled muscle and can affect the lower leg, back, and shoulders.

Some signs of muscle strain include tight muscles, swelling, physical weakness, and the inability to move the way you want to. It is comparable to an ankle sprain in severity and treatment.

Signs of an Ankle Sprain

An ankle sprain is to ligaments, while strains are to tendons. A sprain or strain involves damage to the connective tissue of the body. However, ankle sprains are more likely to leave a mark.

A sprained ankle is often the result of intense physical activity gone awry. The ligaments supporting our joints by connecting our bones are pulled too far or torn apart.

If you are not careful, a simple ankle sprain can turn into a dislocated joint when the torn ligament goes too far. Healing will take weeks or months and may not work properly without proper sports medicine care.

As with every other injury, there are levels regarding the severity of your sprained ankle.

It can be a mild strain that can be solved with some ice or a severe sprain that may require a physical exam to determine the cause.

What Are the Different Classifications of Ankle Sprains?

When you receive a sprain, no matter how mild you may think it is, it is best to consult with your GP to determine just how bad the damage is.

Here are the three main classifications for determining the severity of your sprain. The higher the grade, the more effort must be put in for treatment and recovery.

Grade I

This is the lowest level of ankle sprains. It entails stretching or mild tearing of the ligament fibres. People who suffer at this level must contend with mild tenderness, swelling, bruising, and stiffness around the ankle.

Grade I sprains are inconvenient but not difficult to deal with. There is still a level of ankle stability and no pain when putting weight on it. It is still possible to walk as normal.

Grade II

The next level is more severe, involving a partial but incomplete ligament tear. This leads to moderate pain, tenderness, bruising and ankle swelling.

When examined, there is a slight instability in the patient’s gait, and walking is painful. The ankles are tender and sensitive to touch, making it more difficult to put weight on the leg.

Grade III

A grade 3 injury involves a complete tear of the ligaments, affecting the stability and positioning of the joint it covers. This can lead to further dislocation and other injuries.

Swelling and bruising become severe and deeply discoloured. Any weight placed on the ankle will result in extreme, sharp pain. This makes walking impossible.

Depending on the severity or inability to heal properly, you may need surgery and will need physical therapy to overcome this level of spraining.

How Would a Suspected Sprain Be Treated?

Sprains can range from mildly inconvenient to extremely painful. You can recover fully in weeks or months if you are unlucky. Fortunately, there are proven ways of dealing with sprains.

Here are the sure-fire ways to treat sprains and strains. These methods will allow you to recover quickly and comprehensively and help you know when it is time to consult your GP.

When to See a Physical Therapist

The NHS considers home-based remedies and monitoring the first and most important thing to do when dealing with a sprain or strain. Most sprains will heal quickly by minimising injury risk and increasing blood flow.

However, here are some warning signs that should inform you that it is time to set an appointment with your physician:

  • The pain and swelling do not stop and worsen despite taking painkillers.
  • You start experiencing rapid temperature changes. Fever and higher temperatures are often signs of an infection.
  • The injury is not getting better even after home treatment. Stretching and mild workouts do not return you to previous dexterity levels.

If you’ve gone through the healing process and have managed to make your swelling subside but still have mobility issues, it is best to undergo PT supervised by recognised sports medicine experts.

Sprained Ankle First Aid

No one who experiences an injury wants to be left in a hospital for two weeks. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take between your misstep and the hospital room.

Self-Care Procedures

The first step to recovering at home is to avoid strenuous exercise not to make the injury worse than it already is. You can then improve blood flow and reduce swelling to hasten recovery.

Heat packs and heating pads may effectively fight chronic inflammation but are detrimental to sudden injuries. In those cases, you’ll need to perform the RICE method.

The RICE Therapy/Method

RICE acronym

Practising the RICE method is the most important step to minimise swelling and prevent severe sprains from worsening. This is especially effective for Grade I and II sprains.

The purpose of this acronym is to ease pain, bring down swelling and speed up the healing process. When done properly, it allows you to recover from sprains.

If you can get your elastic bandage and ice packs ready, you can deal with any recent injury. You can prevent sprains from turning into bigger injuries, reduce pain, and facilitate healing.


The first two days after the injury are crucial for ensuring your recovery. In that period, you should cease all strenuous activity and focus on alleviating pressure on your ankles.

Avoid putting weight on your feet for the next 24-48 hours to stabilise the ankle and prevent any further damage. By protecting your feet and giving them breathing room, you’re setting yourself up for a speedy recovery.


After taking the pressure off of your ankle, it is time to apply an ice pack (in a light towel) for 15-20 minutes. Do this every 2-3 hours for the first 48 hours after your injury.

Ice is the most effective method for bringing down swelling in recent injuries. It decreases circulation in that area and numbs the pain, preventing fluid from bunching and helping you avoid pain.

Icing your ankle allows you to encourage a speedier recovery and helps you cruise past the first 2 days without writhing in pain. It’s vital for ensuring your ability to walk any time again soon.


Wrapping the injured area in compression dressings allows the inflammation to disappear once the ice has done most of the heavy lifting. It allows you to continue on your smooth sailing towards recovery.

You must remember to avoid wrapping your bandages too tightly, or else you might cut off blood flow to your feet.

The other purpose of compression is to provide support and stability to your ankles and feet, allowing the ligaments to heal in the right direction.


The last step is to elevate your feet above your heart (assuming you’re lying on your back while recovering). This improves blood flow and reduces swelling, allowing you to move past your injury.

American organisations such as the CDC and Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommend maintaining a high posture for your feet, propping them up on pillows even when you are not icing them.

The main goal of RICE therapy is to reduce swelling and inflammation while allowing the ligaments to heal properly.

Elevation helps both cases, and it is important to maintain elevation throughout your bed-ridden period.

When done correctly, the RICE method will keep your ankles from ballooning and allow your soft tissue to rebuild and repair itself in about two weeks.


Any injury will be quite painful once your body’s adrenaline wears off. Ligaments snapping and tearing can leave anyone in tears, even if they don’t remember the pain they felt.

Doctors thus suggest tablets for the pain, stopping it from developing further. While pain is a reminder to keep off the leg as it heals, it doesn’t have to be… quite so painful.

It is possible to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen in conjunction with RICE. It is best to consult your doctor to see what kind of medication to take.


A physical injury that leaves you incapacitated for almost two weeks will require tools to keep you from injuring yourself.

If you are adamant about remaining mobile while recovering, you may need a cast or a walking boot to keep the ankle in place. You can get around with crutches if you have Grade II or III sprains.

Physical Therapy for Severe Sprains

Torn ligaments are no joke. Rolling your ankle could lead to it being dislocated, a worse injury that will take months and even therapy to heal. After the swelling has subsided, you will need to retrain your feet to move properly.

This is where PT comes in. Proper use of sports medicine will allow you to slowly but surely regain the full and proper use of your ankles.

While it is best to wait 8 weeks before moving again strenuously (for a total of 10 weeks recovery period), ensuring full healing will improve your leg’s durability and lower the risk of secondary injury.

If you are patient and determined, the trips to the PT after will ensure that your former athleticism returns.

When to See a Doctor/Getting Surgery for Severe Injuries

Upon first receiving your injury, the first place you should be going to is your GP to see if you have a fracture, broken bone or other condition being hidden by your “sprain” or strain.

Here are some of the tests your physician may order to determine the damage to your joints:

  • X-Ray
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • CT-Scan
  • Other image scans

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are the most common questions people have when treating a soft-tissue injury. We’ll discuss the best methods for ensuring a quick recovery.

We’ll examine how to best move past an injury and ensure you can get back on your feet with enough care and attention.

What Helps Sprains and Strains Heal Faster?

The best treatment for overcoming an injury quickly is to protect it while giving it the time and ability to heal. It is best to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the injury to prevent it from worsening.

You can speed up healing from sprains and strains by resting your ankle and following the RICE method, icing the affected area to reduce swelling and enhance blood flow to the ankle.

Taking painkillers also helps the healing process go by quicker. Stretching and doing basic exercises to ensure proper mobility and flexibility will allow you to recover quickly.

What Is the Most Common Treatment for a Sprained Ankle?

There are several treatment methods for getting over an ankle sprain based on recommendations by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

However, the best course of action is to prevent swelling and get pressure off of the sprained body part to prevent further injury. This is where the RICE (or PRICE) method proves most useful.

Protecting the ankle from further injury and reducing swelling ensures that the foot heals properly and quickly. If the proper steps are taken, you can be healed in around 2 weeks.


Sprained ankle pain

A sprained ankle is far from a death sentence. With an ice pack and conservative management of strains, sprains, and other sports injuries, you can minimise swelling in the affected limb and get back on track.

While ankle sprains and strains can be healed naturally, a torn or twisted ligament that won’t heal may require the aid of sports medicine specialists or even orthopaedic surgeons to solve.

If you or your employees need first aid qualifications, take a look at our range of first aid training courses. Alternatively, get in touch today to find out more.

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