Ankle sprains are among the most common musculoskeletal injuries. A 2019 research review indicated about 2 million acute ankle sprains occur every year in the United States.
Like most injuries, you need a period of rest and rehabilitation before you can return to your normal activities. But that same review showed that many people don’t allow enough time to heal. Up to 70% of those with an acute ankle sprain may develop residual physical disability, such as chronic ankle instability, as a result.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, our board-certified foot and ankle specialists understand that ankle sprains can limit your mobility and interfere with your life. That’s why we offer advanced diagnostic tools and effective treatment for our patients in the Chicago, Illinois, area.
One question we hear a lot is how long you should rest a sprained ankle. Here’s what you need to know.
Your ankle joint connects your lower leg to your foot. Three ligaments — connective tissue that connects the bones in your lower leg with the bones in your foot — keep the ankle bones from shifting out of place. A sprained ankle occurs when one of these ligaments is stretched too much or suffers a tear.
Anything that stretches your ankle more than its normal range of motion can cause a sprain. Sprains occur most often when your foot is turned inward or twisted, such as when you plant your foot the wrong way, step on an uneven surface, or step on or off a curb without looking.
Women, children, and teenagers tend to sprain their ankles more than men. You have a higher risk if you:
With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can heal completely, but it may take some time, depending on the severity of the sprain.
How long you should rest depends on the severity of the sprain. When we diagnose the problem, we let you know where your sprain falls. Sprains are categorized into grades:
A grade 1 sprain is a mild ligament tear. It causes a little swelling and some pain. It takes an average of three weeks to heal, meaning some people recover faster and some need 4-5 weeks.
A grade 2 sprain means 50% of the ligament has torn. You have more swelling and pain than a grade 1 and less range of motion and weight-bearing ability. Grade 2 sprains generally take 4-6 weeks to heal.
A grade 3 sprain is a complete ligament tear. You have a lot of swelling and pain and are unable to bear weight. It can take at least 3-6 months to recover, and some people feel residual pain even after a year.
Just because your ankle hurts and is stiff doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put weight on it, nor should you avoid stretching. The key is knowing when to do what, and that’s what rehabilitation is all about.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the RICE method to start:
After the first couple of days, you likely can move on to stage 2.
Unless we tell you otherwise, you can start weight-bearing exercises after a few days of rest, though with caution. Unless your ankle is also fractured, these exercises help the healing process.
A round of physical therapy helps relieve pain and inflammation and increases strength and range of motion. It also prevents the ligament from healing slightly stretched out, which can contribute to ankle instability and future sprains.
If you’ve hurt your ankle, it could be a sprain or a strain or even a break. To be sure, come to Chicagoland Foot and Ankle for an evaluation. We can put you on the path to recovery and rehabilitation.
To schedule, call any of our locations, or book online with us today. Our offices are in the Mount Greenwood and Portage Park areas of Chicago, as well as Orland Park and New Lenox, Illinois.