How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Take to Heal?
The ankle is an important weight-bearing joint of the body, as it supports your full body weight and is instrumental in standing both while stationary and during movement. A sprain occurs when the ligaments surrounding the joint are stretched beyond normal ranges or tear. See your doctor immediately if you suspect a sprain, as ignoring your injury or not treating it correctly can stretch a three to four month recovery period into a year or more.
Definition of a Sprain
annieee/flickr.com, National Institutes of Health
A sprain is defined as a partial or complete tear of one or more ligaments that hold the bones of the foot and ankle together. Sprains cause swelling and bruising and result in instability of the ankle. As most ankle sprains are caused by the ankle rolling outward, sprains typically involve the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) or the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL) on the outside of the ankle. The level of injury due to sprain varies in severity and is classified as primary, secondary or tertiary (grade 1, 2, or 3).
Grade 1 Sprain
A grade 1 sprain usually requires just a week or two of recovery time, as there is minimal injury to ligaments. Immediate treatment with ice, elevation of the foot above your heart and compression with an ACE bandage to support the joint is usually sufficient. You will experience minor swelling and pain with some swelling and tenderness. Splinting or casting is not required. Range of motion, gentle stretching, strengthening and range of motion exercises will help get you back to full functionality in short order.
Grade 2 Sprain
Statistically, grade 2 sprains are the most common. Injury is not classified as severe, but can, if not treated promptly, cause serious problems. Range of motion and stability are moderately reduced. After examination, most physicians will prescribe splinting for a few weeks to immobilize and support the joint. Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the ligaments usually follows. Most grade 2 sprains take four to six weeks to heal.
Grade 3 Sprain
A grade 3 sprain is the most serious injury with the longest healing/recovery time. A sprain of this severity can easily take 8 to 12 weeks or even longer to heal completely. Physicians usually immobilize the joint and prescribe physical therapy, just as with a grade 2 sprain. However, the immobilization period is longer, as is the physical-therapy program. If little to no progress is made with therapy, surgical repair of the tear could be the next step.
Exercises to Speed Recovery
Ask your doctor when you have healed enough to begin exercising, then start doing the following exercises:
Dorsiflexion is one of the first exercises usually prescribed, and it takes your foot back and forth through its full range of motion. Rest your leg on a flat surface with the knee locked and hold the extended and flexed positions for 10-15 seconds each. Repeat 10 times.
Writing the alphabet with your toes is another common exercise. Sit on a high stool, so your foot clears the ground. Write out the letters of the alphabet using your big toe. Repeat twice.
The single-leg balance strengthens and activates glutes and helps you regain lower-leg stability. Stand next to a sturdy chair using the hand opposite your injured ankle. Shift your weight to the injured foot and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Strengthen the ankle and maintain flexibility in your calves with the seated calf raise. Start by sitting in a chair with the affected foot flat on the floor. Raise your heel as high as you can (onto the toes) and hold for 10 seconds. Release and repeat 10 times.
- Sprained Ankle
- Polzer H, Kanz KG, Prall WC, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of acute ankle injuries: development of an evidence-based algorithm. Orthop Rev (Pavia). 2012;4(1):e5. doi:10.4081/or.2012.e5
- Vuurberg G, Hoorntje A, Wink LM, et al. Diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ankle sprains: update of an evidence-based clinical guideline. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(15):956. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-098106
- McGovern RP, Martin RL. Managing ankle ligament sprains and tears: Current opinion. Open Access J Sports Med. 2016;7:33-42. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S72334
- Melanson SW, Shuman VL. Acute ankle sprain. In: StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing, updated June 21, 2020.
- Petrella R, Ekman EF, Schuller R, Fort JG. Efficacy of celecoxib, a COX-2-specific inhibitor, and naproxen in the management of acute ankle sprain: results of a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. Clin J Sport Med. 2004;14(4):225-31. doi:10.1097/00042752-200407000-00005
- Tiemstra JD. Update on acute ankle sprains. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85(12):1170-1176.
Deborrah Cooper is an ISSA-certified trainer and ACE lifestyle consultant specializing in women, sports nutrition, program design and post-rehab fitness. She is also a dating coach and advice columnist. In 2007 she wrote "Sucka Free Love!" a hilarious guide to smarter dating for modern singles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication from the University of Houston.