What is an Ankle Sprain?

wiseGEEK Writer

The ankles are subject to sprain both during extreme activities and even fairly mundane ones such as walking down the street and rolling the ankle out accidentally. Many types of sprains are benign and get better quickly, but severe sprains could require extra treatment and care. All ankle sprains, no matter if small or great, mean that the ligaments are stretched or possibly torn by the action that created the injury.

A person who thinks that she or he has a sprained ankle should seek medical attention.
A person who thinks that she or he has a sprained ankle should seek medical attention.

Just like burns, ankle sprains are classed by degrees that indicate severity. Thus a first degree ankle sprain may not be very severe. It could involve a stretched ligament only, which is still uncomfortable, or the ligament, usually the talofibular ligament, might exhibit minor tearing. Other diagnostic factors of a first degree sprain are that people are able to stand on the affected ankle, and that pain is felt but not acutely. Swelling of the ankle is common.

A sprained ankle could occur when running on uneven surfaces.
A sprained ankle could occur when running on uneven surfaces.

A second degree ankle sprain usually has stretched or slightly torn the talofibular ligament too. Pain is more significant, and most people can’t stand on the foot connected to the injured ankle. As with first degree sprains there is swelling involved that creates difficulties.

A third degree ankle sprain may affect the talofibular ligament but also can tear the calcaneofibular ligament. These are the most painful initially, though later a person may have little sensation, and such sprains are considered very serious because one or both ligaments may be fully torn. They affect the ability to which a person can move their foot, and usually people can’t move the foot at all. Swelling is dramatic and is very noticeable.

If people think they have an ankle sprain they should seek medical attention, and treatment depends on sprain degree. While waiting to get help, a person should also follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) guidelines. Especially when swelling is present, icing and staying off the foot can really help, but this won’t be adequate treatment when ligament damage is severe. For a first degree sprain, common treatment is to simply rest the foot for a few days and follow RICE at prescribed intervals. The doctor may also prescribe strengthening exercises to do after the first few days, since stretching of a ligament predisposes people toward more sprains in the future.

Second and third degree sprains may need more intervention. It’s not uncommon for those with second degree sprains to need some form of immobilizing device. This may be an ace bandage or some form of splinting. RICE is still followed and exercise may be prescribed after a certain point. Due to rupture of the ligaments involved with third degree ankle sprain, surgery may be the first treatment to repair ligaments, often followed by placing a cast on the area. Folks with this serious injury may additionally undergo some physical therapy after they have recovered from surgery.

A man with a sprained ankle.
A man with a sprained ankle.

Discussion Comments


I once got a really painful ankle sprain injury when I jumped up in the air to catch a frisbee and landed awkardly on my right foot. The foot rolled inward, and I could feel the tendons in my ankle snap. I knew what the proper ankle sprain treatment was, but nobody around me had any ice or bandages. We were in a remote section of a state park, and the nearest store was 5 miles away.

A park ranger showed up with some gauze bandages and I did what I could to immobilize my ankle. I only wish he had brought some ice, because the swelling was getting worse and worse. He agreed to drive me back to the parking lot, and a friend drove me to the nearest hospital for treatment.

The doctor called it an inversion ankle sprain, and I had to have a few weeks of ankle sprain rehabilitation before I could put all of my weight on that foot again.


One time when I was in college, I got a fairly severe ankle sprain after falling down some stairs at the dorm. I couldn't afford a trip to the emergency room, and I really couldn't afford to spend much time off my feet, either. I tried something that brought me relief within an hour or so, but I don't know if I'd recommend it to everyone.

I asked my roommate to go to the store and buy an insulated foam cooler and a box of Epsom salts. I filled the disposable cooler with the hottest water I could stand, then poured in a generous amount of Epsom salts. I soaked my sprained ankle in that hot solution for as long as I could. An hour later, I could bear some weight on that ankle.

The next morning, I was very sore but I could get around campus using some borrowed crutches and an ACE bandage.

Post your comments
Forgot password?