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Recovery Time for a Sprained Ankle

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By Babafemi Adebajo
Romi Hector
Edited by Romi Hector

Updated February 17, 2023.

Foot wrapped in bandages next to crutches

There are many possible reasons why your ankle hurts. Ankle pain can occur in the form of arthritis in the ankles, ankle pain when walking, or sudden ankle pain. An ankle sprain is one of the most common sprains among all ages. It occurs when one or more ligaments in the ankle stretch or tear, causing pain, inflammation, and difficulty with ankle motion.

While an ankle sprain can heal by itself, the actual recovery time depends on the severity of the sprain and the quality of medical intervention after the injury. Here is how long you can expect the recovery to take for each of the grades or types of ankle sprains.

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Recovery Time for a Grade 1 Ankle Sprain

With a grade 1 sprain, the ankle stretches minimally but does not tear. As a result, symptoms include mild ankle pain, swelling, and tenderness. There is usually no bruising, joint instability, or difficulty with bearing weight.

Recovery time for a grade 1 ankle sprain is 1-3 weeks. Intervention includes resting, protecting the joint, and reducing swelling. To do this, avoid walking on your ankle. Limit weight bearing by using crutches until you are sure there is no broken bone—in which case you can put minimal weight on it.

Also, you can use ice to keep the swelling minimal. You can also use an ankle brace to control swelling and keep your ankles stable while the ligaments heal. Compressing and elevating the foot can also help control swelling and immobilize the limb.

Recovery Time for a Grade 2 Ankle Sprain

With a grade 2 sprain, there is a partial tear in the ligaments. Symptoms include moderate pain, swelling, and tenderness. There may be some bruising, mild to moderate joint instability, and a loss of range of motion and function. Grade 2 ankle sprain will also cause pain in weight-bearing and walking.

You can follow the PRICE method (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), but you will need to allow more time for healing. The average recovery time for a grade 2 ankle sprain is 3–6 weeks.

Recovery Time for Grade 3 Ankle Sprain

A grade 3 ankle sprain is the most severe ankle sprain. There is a complete tear or rupture in the ligament at this level. Consequently, symptoms include severe pain, swelling, tenderness, and bruising. There is also a loss of function, range of motion, and ability to bear weight or walk.

Aside from this, a grade 3 sprain increases the likelihood of permanent ankle instability. Depending on the intervention, recovery will be complete after 3–6 months. A surgical procedure may be needed to repair the damage. Also, your doctor may immobilize your ankle with a short leg cast for 2-3 weeks to allow healing.

Factors That Can Affect Recovery Time of an Ankle Sprain

The recovery time after an ankle sprain depends on the severity of the injury to the ligaments of the ankle. You’ll need a medical practitioner to help you identify the severity of your injury. Once the severity is determined, the biggest factor to guarantee ankle sprain recovery is acting immediately and treating your injury properly.

Factors that Prolong Recovery Time

Whatever slows down the healing process of the ankle ligaments will prolong recovery time.

Using heat around the joint will prolong recovery time by increasing the rate of inflammation and delaying healing. Likewise, putting too much pressure on a sprained ankle could worsen the sprain and prolong recovery time. Pulling out of rehabilitation before the injury is completely healed may predispose you to long-lasting ankle instability (chronic ankle sprains).

Ensure you get permission from your health care provider before placing weight on your ankle so you don’t postpone the recovery time from a sprained ankle.

How to Shorten Recovery Time

Whatever promotes the healing of the ankle ligaments will guarantee a faster recovery time from an ankle sprain. To shorten recovery time, incorporate the PRICE method. It is recommended that this method be used within the first 24-48 hours after injury.

Apart from the PRICE method, a combination of motion-controlled movements, strength training for leg muscles, balance training, endurance, and agility exercises are all recommended for an ankle sprain. These methods aim to relieve pain, restore functional motion, rebuild balance, and increase confidence when applying pressure to the ankle.

These will accelerate the recovery of an ankle sprain, prevent its recurrence, and curtail the long-term risk of chronic ankle instability.

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