How to Treat a Sprained Ankle

Young man holding ice pack on ankle
Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Early treatment of a sprained ankle can help to speed recovery and minimize the symptoms. Here are a few simple treatment steps to follow should you sustain a sprained ankle. The initial steps are based on "R.I.C.E." treatment of an acute injury. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. As the initial pain and swelling begin to subside, more aggressive rehabilitation can begin to ensure full recovery.

Treatment Steps

  1. Protect the Injured Ankle. This is quite simple but amazingly common for people to forget. Don't walk on the sprained ankle, and protect it from further contact by immobilizing with a splint or brace. Allowing the injured ankle to rest can help to prevent further injury to the joint and also limit the amount of swelling and inflammation that occurs around the joint. The less swelling and inflammation that occurs, the quicker you can progress to the next phases of rehab. By not protecting the joint, you can not only delay the start of recovery but also make those early phases longer and more difficult.
  2. Rest. Take a few days off of your feet. You don't have to be inactive, but be sure the ankle is being rested. Resting means different things depending on the severity of the injury. One of the easiest ways to rest the ankle, yet still move around, is to use crutches for a few days. This takes all of the pressure and stress off of the injured joint and can allow swelling to subside. While it is not necessary and likely not even best to immobilize the joint, any activity should be cautious and limited. Possible exercises you can do may include swimming or riding a stationary bicycle. 
  1. Ice. This can be done several times a day for 15-20 minutes. This will keep the swelling to a minimum and can be effective to control pain around the joint. Most people focus their icing efforts on the first few days after the injury while the body is going through the inflammatory stages of healing. After that first 48 hours, icing is probably less important, but can still be an effective tool to use to help control pain around the joint. Do not ice for more than 20 minutes, it could do more damage than good.
  2. Compression. This does not have to be all of the time, but particularly when your foot is not elevated it would be advisable. A simple Ace wrap is fine for light compression. The compression can help limit the amount of fluid that accumulates in the soft-tissues surrounding the ankle joint. By limiting this swelling, ankle motion will be preserved, and pain control improved.
  3. Elevate. This will also help to minimize the swelling that takes place. A few pillows under the ankle should be fine to get the leg up enough while keeping the injured limb comfortable. Keep in mind it is important to have the ankle above the level of your torso, so it is not really possible to elevate your leg from a seated position. If you really want to elevate the ankle, you're going to have to lie down!
  1. Get Professional Help. While most ankle injuries are simple and heal naturally over a short time, some injuries are more severe and can necessitate more aggressive treatment. If there is any question about the severity of your ankle injury, a medical professional can help you determine if anything further needs to be done. Even with typical ankle sprains, there can be damage and injury to tendons, cartilage, and nerves that may complicate and prolong your treatment.
  2. Begin Ankle Rehab. To ensure a full recovery, you will have to regain full mobility, strength, and balance with the injured ankle joint. Working with a therapist, athletic trainer or personal fitness coach can help you ensure you are taking the right approach to ankle rehabilitation. Keep in mind, rehab is not only important to recovery from your injury, but it is essential to help prevent recurrent injuries to that ankle.


  1. Never ice for more than 20 minutes. Many people think the more the better, but this is not true. Maximum ice time should be 20 minutes every few hours.
  2. Get creative with icing your sprained ankle. A bag of frozen corn or peas makes a great ice pack and it's both reusable and edible.
  3. Compression bandages should be snug, not tight. If too tight, your circulation will be impaired, and the healing process slowed.
Was this page helpful?