close icon



News & Insights

Treating a sprained ankle

Sprained Ankle Treatment: When Is It Time to See a Doctor?

Mar 25, 2022

It’s hard to imagine a person who has never sprained an ankle. After all, all it takes is a single bad step, even on the best of terrains. However, for the majority of people, the recovery process involves applying some ice to the injured area and a brief period of rest. 

However, things are not always as simple and benign. Sometimes, the outcome of this injury will be quite bad and you will have to look for professional treatment for your sprained ankle. The biggest problem lies in the question – how do you tell when it is serious enough to seek medical attention? Here are a couple of pointers to help you out.

Three Grades of Ankle Sprain Severity

Not every ankle sprain is as dangerous. While every situation isn’t the same, there are three separate grades of ankle sprain based on the severity.

Grade 1: This is the least damage to the ankle ligaments. The recovery process lasts between one and three weeks. The symptoms are mild pain, some swelling, and tenderness but there’s usually no bruising. In fact, chances are that you won’t even experience pain from carrying weight.
Grade 2: This is a partial tear of one or more of the ankle ligaments. The recovery process is between three and six weeks. The pain is moderate, bruising is possible and the pain happens regardless if you’re bearing any weight or just walking.
Grade 3: This is a situation in which one or more of the ankle ligaments are fully ruptured. The recovery process can last up to several months. The pain is severe, there’s swelling, tenderness, and bruising. The loss of stability is great and there’s no ability to bear weight or walk. You may also need surgery to stabilize, fix, or reconstruct the ligament involved.
Fracture: While not a sprain, some ankles may actually have broken bones but look like they are sprained. Ankle bone fractures require more in-depth treatment.

Now, the safest answer to the question “When to see a doctor about a sprained ankle?”, is – every time you think you might have sprained it. Ideally, you would have the ankle examined by a specialized sprained ankle doctor, such as those from The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey, right away. Still, for those who are not as vigilant, if you suspect that your sprain severity is Grade 2 or Grade 3, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for professional help.

Sprained Ankle Symptoms 

Recognizing a sprained ankle is relatively simple. First of all, it is something that you will feel immediately after injury. What you will experience are:

• Instability
• Popping sound
• Limited range of motion
• Pain or tenderness
• Swelling and bruising

Your immediate course of action should be to put as little pressure on this foot in the subsequent minutes and hours and initial the RICE technique - rest, ice, elevation, and compression. Have someone drive you to one of our orthopedic urgent care centers.  

Common Healing Process

Previously, we’ve mentioned that there’s an option of just taking it easy and applying some ice to the sprained ankle, waiting for it to heal. In general, sprained ankle healing time depends on the gravity of the injury. For a minor injury, it will take as little as two weeks. If the damage is severe, it could take between six and twelve weeks.

Now, the majority of sprained ankle instances are minor. Also, it takes two weeks for a full recovery. Chances are that you’ll be able to walk (with minor discomfort) after a couple of days, while, after a week, you’ll still feel slight discomfort. Just keep in mind that this depends on how disciplined you are immediately after the accident, as well as how serious you are about committing to your sprained ankle recovery.

How Does My Ankle Sprain?

The most common reason why people sprain their ankles is because of the uneven terrain. Damaged terrain, filled with potholes creates a lot of opportunities for you to get injured. However, even by threading on completely even terrain, there’s a risk of spraining your ankle, if you’re not careful.

So, how does one mitigate this risk? Well, there are three things you can do:

• First, you need to choose your terrain carefully. This is especially true if you’re a jogger.
• Second, you need to invest in quality footwear.
• Third, if you’ve suffered from a sprained ankle in the near past, it might not be wise to resume jogging, hiking, or going for long walks until you’re fully recovered.

These three tips alone will minimize the risk of an injury by a significant margin.

Why Isn’t My Sprained Ankle Healing?

The best indicator that you’re in need of a sprained ankle treatment (or better yet, that you should have gone to a doctor) is the fact that your ankle doesn’t seem to get better. Still, to be fair, hindsight is always 20/20.

Sprained ankle treatment is actually quite simple. First, you need to follow the RICE protocol. This is an anagram for Rest, apply Ice, Compress the ankle, and keep it Elevated. Still, if this procedure is not followed, you’re leaving room for the situation to become a lot worse.

Depending on the opinions of your doctors, you might also get some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Without it, your healing process may not be as rapid or comfortable.

Staying off your feet may also be quite difficult. This is why the use of crutches is highly recommended. This is especially helpful if your foot/leg is immobilized according to the assessment of your physician. At the OINJ we have both crutches and durable medical walking shoes/boots for patients with ankle injuries.

Lastly, it is quite possible that you’ll also need physical therapy.

So, the best answer to the question “When to worry about a sprained ankle?” is – right away. As soon as you assume that the ankle is sprained (due to the incident that caused it). Any follow-up symptom (which we already listed) is just an additional reason for you to go to an ankle doctor and ask for their opinion.

Wrap Up

In the end, the sprained ankle treatment depends on the severity of the injury and the opinion of the medical professional. While going for a self-administered RICE treatment sounds like a simple enough thing, going to a professional is never a bad idea. It’s better to go to a medical professional for no reason than to avoid going into a situation where you’re in actual need of medical treatment.

So, if you believe that you might have sprained your ankle or ruptured (even partially) your ligaments, you should find a foot and ankle specialist at The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey right away.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.