How to Wrap a Sprained Ankle

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments that connect bone to bone are stretched too far, causing inflammation and sometimes tears. These injuries most commonly affect the ligaments on the outside of the ankle when a person's foot rolls too far inward. This injury is called a "lateral ankle sprain." This can happen while walking on uneven surfaces, stepping off a curb, playing sports, or during a fall.

This article discusses instructions for wrapping a sprained ankle, other treatments for this injury, and when to see a doctor.

Person wrapping ankle

Tetra Images / Getty Images

Why Should You Wrap a Sprained Ankle?

The main function of your ligaments is to keep your joints stable. Immediately after injury, your ankle is less stable, and you are at a high risk of spraining it again. Wrapping a sprained ankle provides support and helps decrease swelling while your ligaments heal.

Wrapping your ankle is especially important if your leg will be in a "dependent" position during the day—hanging down to the ground—where gravity can cause swelling to get worse.

How Do You Wrap a Sprained Ankle?

Wash and thoroughly (but gently) dry your foot and ankle prior to wrapping. Position your ankle at a 90-degree angle.

Wrapping With an Elastic Bandage

  1. Hold the rolled bandage in one hand and the loose end in the opposite hand.
  2. Place the loose end at the edge of your foot, at the ball of your foot near the base of your toes.
  3. Hold the loose end in place. Apply some tension and wrap the rolled bandage around your foot and over the loose end.
  4. Continue to wrap around your foot, overlapping about half of the width of the bandage as you go.
  5. When you reach your heel, bring the wrap across the top your foot and around your ankle.
  6. Cross over the top of your foot in the opposite direction and under your arch, making a figure-eight.
  7. Continue to wrap in the figure-eight pattern until your heel is covered.
  8. Wrap the remaining bandage around the bottom of your lower leg. Secure with tape or clips that are provided with your wrap.

Swelling tends to be worst around the outer ankle bone when you have an ankle sprain. If you have some felt, cut several layers (about 1/2 inch thick) into a "U" shape. Place the felt under your ankle bone, and incorporate it as you wrap your elastic bandage, for extra compression in this area.

Don't Wrap Too Tight

Elastic bandages need to provide compression, but wrapping too tightly can cause more damage. These signs can indicate that your wrap needs to be loosened:

  • Numbness or tingling in your toes
  • Increased pain
  • Cold toes
  • Dusky/purple skin on your toes

Kinesiology Taping

Kinesiology tape, or kinesiotape, is a flexible, adhesive tape that can be applied to the skin to provide support to an injured area. Kinesiotape provides stability without limiting your ankle's ability to move; therefore, this treatment should not be used if your injury requires immobilization.

It can take practice to properly apply kinesiotape, and recommended placement of the tape depends on your specific type of ankle sprain. For best results, consult a physical therapist for instructions.

Here are the basic steps for applying kinesiotape for a lateral ankle sprain:

  1. Cut a piece of tape long enough to run along the bottom of your foot, up to a couple of inches above your outside ankle bone.
  2. Position your ankle at 90 degrees.
  3. Secure one end of the tape to the bottom of your foot where your arch meets your heel.
  4. Apply 25% tension to the tape and attach the other end of the tape to the outside of your lower leg, covering your ankle bone.
  5. Cut two more pieces of tape, long enough to fit around your ankle at the height of your ankle bones.
  6. Holding the end of one piece of tape on the inside of your ankle, secure the end to the back of your ankle, at the height of your ankle bone.
  7. With 25% tension, wrap the tape around your ankle from the inside to the outside, covering both ankle bones.
  8. Holding the last piece of tape on the outside of your ankle, attach one end of the of tape to the back of your ankle, at the height of your ankle bones.
  9. With 25% tension, wrap the final piece of tape over the second piece, in the opposite direction.

Ankle Brace

Ankle braces can also be used for support while you're recovering from an ankle sprain. There are a variety of types to choose from:

  • Stirrup brace: This type of brace has air cells in a plastic frame that run along either side of your ankle, with a "stirrup" under your heel. This brace provides a high level of support—it allows you to walk, but keeps your ankle from rolling.
  • Lace-up ankle braces: These ankle braces slide over your foot and ankle and are "cinched" with laces, like a shoe.
  • Neoprene braces: This ankle brace provides light support and compression after an ankle sprain. Some neoprene braces have an additional strap that is secured with Velcro for more support.

How Long Should You Wrap a Sprained Ankle?

In general, you should wrap your injured ankle for several days or up to a week after injury, to help manage swelling. Remove the wrap at night and sleep with your ankle elevated on a pillow to help reduce swelling.

Other Treatments for Ankle Sprain

A mild ankle sprain can often be managed at home with a few days of rest, compression with an elastic bandage, elevating your leg on a pillow, and applying ice for 15-20 minutes, every couple of hours.

More severe ankle sprains can benefit from physical therapy to improve range of motion and proprioception (your body's ability to move itself), and restore strength after your injury has healed. If your ankle continues to be unstable, or your ligaments are completely torn, surgery might be required. Fortunately, this doesn't occur very often.

When to See a Doctor

If your ankle injury isn't starting to improve with a few days of treatment, it's time to see your healthcare provider. Also, if you can't bear weight on your foot, seek immediate medical attention—you might have additional injuries, such as a broken bone.

Summary

Ankle sprain is a common injury that ranges from mild to severe. Swelling caused by this injury can be managed by wrapping your ankle with an elastic bandage. Kinesiotape or ankle braces can also be used to help your ankle be more stable while you are recovering.

A Word From Verywell

While an ankle sprain might not seem like a big deal at first, it can lead to long-term problems, such as limited movement, decreased balance, and weakness. Once you've had an ankle sprain, you're at a much higher risk of having another one. Be patient and allow your ankle to heal fully before resuming your normal activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you sleep with a wrapped sprained ankle?

    Swelling after ankle sprain is typically worse during the day while your leg is hanging toward the ground. Remove your wrap at night and prop your ankle on a pillow.

  • How long should you stay off a sprained ankle?

    The amount of rest needed after a sprained ankle depends on the severity of your injury. A mild sprain might not prevent you from walking—but it will be painful. Using crutches for a few days can help. For more severe injuries, crutches might be required for several weeks.

  • How can you tell if your ankle is sprained?

    A sprained ankle causes pain, swelling, and often bruising. You might also have numbness or tingling, and your ankle can feel "weak."

Was this page helpful?
6 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. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sprained ankle.

  2. University of Michigan Health. Sprained ankle: using a compression wrap.

  3. Rushing J. Wrapping an ankle with an elastic compression bandageNursing. 2009;39(12):12. doi:10.1097/01.NURSE.0000365013.85622.5e

  4. Performance Health Academy. Ankle sprain kinesiology taping technique.

  5. Tran K, Argáez C. External supports for the treatment of ankle sprain: a review of clinical effectiveness. Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2020.

  6. American Academy of Family Physicians. Ankle sprains.