Rehab for Faster Ankle Sprain Recovery

Steps for Treatment of an Injured Ankle to Speed Recovery

Almost everyone has experienced an ankle injury, from a mild strain to major ligament damage. Most sports participants will remember at least one time when they sprained their ankles. Once the injury has occurred, patients generally want to recover as quickly as possible. There's no clear consensus on exactly how to recover from an ankle injury, but there are some common themes. Learn about the basic steps of ankle injury rehabilitation and when you can resume your normal activities.


"R.I.C.E." Treatment

Coach looking at rugby player's ankle

Tony Latham/Getty Images

The early treatment of an ankle sprain is the "RICE" method of treatment. This is focused on reducing ankle swelling and alleviating pain:

  • Rest: The first 24-48 hours after the injury is considered a critical treatment period and activities need to be limited. Gradually put as much weight on the involved ankle as tolerated and discontinue crutch use when you can walk without a limp.
  • Ice: Ice application is effective to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. While ice packs can be helpful, there are special ice wraps that are made to mold to the joint.
  • Compression: Use compression in the early phase of ankle sprain treatment. Using an Ace bandage, wrap the ankle from the toes all the way up to the top of the calf muscle, overlapping the elastic wrap by one-half of the width of the wrap. The wrap should be snug, but not cutting off circulation to the foot.
  • Elevation: Keep your sprained ankle higher than your heart as often as possible. This can also help to dramatically reduce swelling. Keep in mind, propping your ankle on a chair while you are sitting up does not elevate above your heart.

Range of Motion Exercises

Manipulative teacher to extend the ankle

kokouu/Getty Images

The first step toward recovery is to regain normal ankle mobility. Mobility can be limited by pain and swelling; therefore, in order to effectively treat restricted motion, try to address pain and swelling. After ankle injuries, range-of-motion activity should start as soon as possible. Rarely do injuries require immobilization (as in a cast or boot), since most injuries can be treated with early motion exercises. Check with your healthcare provider to determine when it's okay to start motion activities.

The most frequently recommended active-motion activity is to "write" the alphabet in space with your big toe. Start with printing the alphabet, then try cursive. This simple activity will move your foot through all the basic ankle motions.


Strengthening Exercises

ankle rehab

DNY59/Getty Images

Once motion has been achieved and swelling and pain are reduced, you should start strengthening the ankle. Following an injury such as a sprain, the ankle will be weak and susceptible to reinjury. Ankle-strengthening exercises can help prevent reinjury and return you to normal activities.

Basic strengthening activities include work with resistance bands, toe raises, and lunges. Working with a physical therapist is often beneficial to allow the therapist to target specific muscles that may have been injured.


Proprioceptive Training

Female osteopath training with patient, exercising balance, Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Lumi Images/Dario Secen/Getty Images

Proprioception is the word used to describe your body's ability to sense the position of a joint. For example, when you close your eyes, you can feel the position of your body without necessarily looking to see the position of your body. Proprioception also helps control the position of your body. Good proprioceptive, or balance, training can help prevent your ankle from getting into positions where sprains and injuries are more likely.

One of the most challenging aspects of recovery after an ankle sprain injury is a restoration of this proprioceptive sensation. Without it, athletes often feel that their ankle is not as strong, even if the muscles are just fine. The ankle has a sensation that it may not support you as well as it should. Training the ankle to be a more stable joint by focusing on these proprioceptive activities tends to improve the overall recovery.


Sport-Specific Activities

Physical Therapist and Patient in a Rehabilitation Center

Fuse/Getty Images

The final stage of recovery from an ankle injury is to perform endurance and agility exercises. This may include drills aimed at cutting, pivoting, or jumping, such as those that mimic movements of your chosen sport. It is important to perform these activities in a simulated environment before returning to your normal sports activities.

When you perform sport-specific drills, your body can prepare for the activity, the next cut or pivot, rather than having to suddenly react to an in-game event. These exercises allow your body to achieve the last stage of rehabilitation with less risk of re-injury. Unfortunately, many athletes neglect this step and return to sports too soon. This can have serious implications if the injury is not completely healed and the body is not ready for sports.


Return to Full Activities

Confident African American soccer player practices with team

Steve Debenport/Getty Images

While there is no clear consensus on the issue, most healthcare providers agree that full activities can resume once the risk of re-injuring your ankle falls to what it was before the injury. In general, try to achieve the following goals before returning to your normal sports routine:

  • No more swelling
  • Normal joint motion
  • Normal joint strength

A team trainer or healthcare provider should ensure that any athlete is ready to return to their sporting activities.

The best advice an athlete can use is to focus their attention on the next step in their recovery rather than on the final goal of returning to sports. In order for someone to return to an athletic event, they first need to be able to weight-bear on the extremity. After they can bear weight, they need to be able to walk normally without limping. After that, they need to be able to run, followed by cutting and pivoting.

When athletes only focus on the final step of their progression, they often neglect proper recovery. If you are using crutches, do not worry so much about returning to athletics, worry about getting your ankle moving, and focus your energy on your current treatment rather than what will calm down the road.


Surgery for Sprains

Surgeons working

Echo/Getty Images

Surgical treatment of an ankle sprain is seldom necessary. In most people, including athletes, surgery is reserved for the few patients who despite appropriate treatment described above, have recurrent ankle instability and sprains. When surgery is performed, typically ligaments that are no longer supporting the ankle adequately are reconstructed in order to provide more stability to the joint.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Melanson SW, Shuman VL. Acute Ankle Sprain. [Updated 2019 Apr 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from:

  2. Chinn L, Hertel J. Rehabilitation of ankle and foot injuries in athletesClin Sports Med. 2010;29(1):157–167. doi:10.1016/j.csm.2009.09.006

  3. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. OrthoInfo. Sprained Ankle. Last reviewed February 2016.

  4. Mattacola CG, Dwyer MK. Rehabilitation of the Ankle After Acute Sprain or Chronic InstabilityJ Athl Train. 2002;37(4):413–429.

  5. Tuthill JC, Azim E. ProprioceptionCurr Biol. 2018;28(5):R194–R203. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2018.01.064

  6. de Vasconcelos GS, Cini A, Sbruzzi G, Lima CS. Effects of proprioceptive training on the incidence of ankle sprain in athletes: systematic review and meta-analysisClin Rehabil. 2018;32(12):1581–1590. doi:10.1177/0269215518788683

  7. Calatayud J, Borreani S, Colado JC, Flandez J, Page P, Andersen LL. Exercise and ankle sprain injuries: a comprehensive reviewPhys Sportsmed. 2014;42(1):88–93. doi:10.3810/psm.2014.02.2051

Additional Reading