How to treat a sprained ankle

A step-by-step guide

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

04 September 2020

How is a sprained ankle caused?

Runners are perhaps the most prone to ankle sprains. Whether you are training on pavement, grass or sand, it's just so easy to lose your footing and incur and injury.

However, although spraining your ankle in this way is an extremely common scenario, it's far from an exclusive one. It is possible to sprain an ankle slipping down steps, stepping off a pavement too hard or even just standing up awkwardly. With an estimated 25,000 people spraining their ankle each day, this common problem clearly needs a little attention!

Failing to treat a sprained ankle properly and returning to your routine too quickly can result in more serious damage to the area. So, to help you understand how to manage the problem effectively, this blog will cover a few important points:

  • What is a sprained ankle?
  • How do you treat a sprained ankle?
  • Natural remedies for an ankle sprain

What is a sprained ankle?

A sprain occurs when the soft tissue in the joint gets damaged. This can be a very slight stretching of the ligaments or tendons which recovers quickly, or it can result in soft tissue scarring or even tearing which will have a much longer recovery time.

A sprained ankle will likely result in the following symptoms:

  • Sharp pain or tenderness to the area
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Inability to put weight on the joint
  • Cramps/spasms

How you treat your injury and the length of your recovery time will depend on the severity of your sprain. Trying to carry on as normal with a sprained ankle is not advised. Often a sprained ankle can appear to be recovered only for the pain to flare up a few weeks later. Giving your body the time to recuperate reduces the likelihood of this happening.

Did you know? Although a sprained ankle can happen at any time, we can reduce the likelihood of injury during exercise by warming up beforehand. Try some gentle stretches or simply a gentle walk before you get into your activity.

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How do you treat a sprained ankle?

Let's take this one step at a time (no pun intended) and have a look at what to do in the days following an injury to give you the best chance of recovery.

Remember, depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to spend longer with each stage. Aim to recover your ankle to 110%. The chances are that it was weakened before the sprain, so if your ankle is stronger than before, you significantly reduce your chances of developing a recurring injury.

Day 1

  • As soon as the injury occurs, avoid putting weight on the area to prevent any further harm.
  • As soon as it is possible, apply some ice to the injury as this will help to reduce blood flow to the area and calm any swelling.
  • Next, try to sit with an ice pack around the area and, if possible, elevate the joint above the level of your heart. Repeat this 3-4 times over the course of the day,
  • Finally, try to avoid putting any stress on your joint.

Day 2

  • At this stage, the injured area will probably feel quite stiff and sore, particularly on waking. It is best to continue applying ice to the area and keep your weight off the ankle as much as possible.

Day 3

  • Though the stiffness will probably persist, the pain should begin to ease at this stage. Still, don't be tempted to start putting it under extra pressure just yet.
  • Ice the ankle a few times throughout the day.

Day 4

  • By now, your ankle may still be a little stiff, but should not be sore or swollen. If this is the case, then you are ready to begin gentle stretches and applying a little extra pressure to it.
  • Try rotating your ankle slowly and pointing your toes, then pulling them back towards your shin. While you may feel a little discomfort, you should not feel pain.
  • By the end of the day, you may even find that you can walk on it for short periods of time without limping.
  • If the injury is still sore, however, then you should stop these exercises.

Day 5

  • Even if your ankle feels completely fine now, remember that we are aiming to make the joint stronger than before the injury. Many people start putting too much pressure on at this stage because the joint feels fine. However, the ankle is still weak and has not fully recovered so giving it a hard time now is more than likely to result in re-injury.

Day 6

  • If your ankle now feels normal again, it is time to start after-care treatment. This involves breaking down scar-tissue with massages and strengthening the muscles.
  • Start off the massage with light strokes, and build these up, becoming firmer and deeper. Concentrate the pressure on the point of injury.
  • Keep exercising and moving your ankle, ensuring that you are not experiencing pain at any stage.

Days 7-10

  • Massage the ankle periodically
  • Apply heat treatments when possible.
  • Keep stretching your ankle and performing a range of movements. Incorporate weight-bearing exercises such as squats and balancing on one leg.

Over the following month

  • Continue stretching and exercising your ankle. Try skipping and hopping exercises and begin incorporating gentle strolls into your daily routine, building up to brisker walks. When your ankle feels really strong again you can begin activities like running again.

Natural remedies for an ankle sprain

Many people find herbs are a natural healer for this type of injury. They are safe and effective and can be used from the first day of injury.

Arnica is a herb that has been used in homeopathic medicine for hundreds of years. It has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties, helping to reduce bruising and swelling. Fresh extracts of this herb can be found in A.Vogel Atrogel Arnica Gel.

Longer-term sprains, or swelling that is slow to recover, may require additional measures to control symptoms and help you function normally at work or in day-to-day activities. In this case, you could try Atrosan Devil's Claw. This works from the inside to control inflammation, so relieving joint stiffness and pain.

My Top Tip:

Apply Atrogel in gentle, circular movements 2-4 times daily.

"Very impressed with Arnica gel."

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Key questions about dealing with a sprained ankle

If you have a question about a sprained ankle then use our Q&A service to get in touch! In the meantime, here are few common queries about a sprained ankle that I often get asked.

How long should it take for a sprained ankle to heal?

A sprained ankle will generally take a couple of weeks to heal. However, you should avoid strenuous exercise for a much longer period, usually up to eight weeks, to avoid further injury.

Can you walk on a sprained ankle?

Avoid walking on the affected ankle for the first day or so. As the pain and swelling ease, begin to add in some very gentle movements such as stretching.

Should I go to the hospital for a sprained ankle?

In most cases, a sprained ankle can be managed at home with plenty of time for rest and recuperation. However, if your injury does not improve with home treatment, if it gets worse, or you develop a fever, it is important to contact your doctor straight away for further advice.

Can a sprained ankle get worse?

A sprained ankle can get worse if you exercise too soon, or put weight on the area too quickly. Set aside 8 full weeks for recovery time for the best chance of healing. If the pain gets worse, or it doesn't improve in the first couple of days, however, please consult your doctor.


5 October 2015 (updated 4 September 2020)

A.Vogel Atrogel Muscle Aches & Pains

Arnica gel for relief of muscle pains, stiffness, sprains and bruising. 100ml size available.
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Did you know?

A sprained ankle is more common than you may realise! It is estimated that 25,000 people sprain their ankle each day!

How to treat a sprained ankle

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