An ankle sprain is an injury to one of the ligaments in an ankle that is caused by overstretching the ligament. Ligaments are flexible bands that connect bones. Although they’re meant to be stretched, they can be overstretched -- or even snap.
Ankle sprains can vary in severity from mild to severe. Doctors categorize ankle sprains into three grades:
In Grade I ankle sprains, the ligament is only stretched
In Grade II ankle sprains, the ligament is partially torn
In Grade III ankle sprains, the ligament is completely torn
How long it takes to recover from a sprained ankle depends on how severe the sprain is:
Grade I sprains typically take a few days to weeks to heal
Grade II sprains typically take a month or more to heal
Grade III sprains can take up to three months to heal, or even longer
The recovery period also depends on how promptly the sprain is treated and how diligently treatment instructions are followed.
Ankle sprains are typically accompanied by a host of symptoms, including the following:
There may also be a popping sound when the sprain actually occurs.
The severity of these symptoms usually varies according to the severity of the sprain.
Most mild and moderate (Grade I and Grade II) sprains will heal on their own when properly cared for, and even some severe (Grade III) sprains will naturally heal. To promote a quick and full recovery, patients should rest their ankle, apply ice to reduce swelling (for 15 to 20 minutes at a time is typically recommended), use a bandage to compress the ankle and keep the ankle elevated. In some cases, doctors may also provide a brace for an ankle or recommend specific strengthening exercises.
Some Grade III sprains require surgery. A podiatrist can determine whether surgery is necessary.