A sprain is an injury to the ligaments at or near a joint. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another and so help to hold joints together. In a sprain, the ligaments may have been overstretched, twisted or torn.


Symptoms of a sprain include: a sensation of the ankle “giving way” at the time of injury, pain at or near the injury site, swelling, bruising, stiffness. Sprains are classified into three grades, based on how severe the injury is:

Grade 1 – the ligaments have been stretched but are still intact. There will be pain and a small degree of swelling but no difficulty moving the ankle.

Grade 2 – a more severe injury, involving a partial tear of a ligament. Pain will be moderate to severe, the ankle will be swollen and difficult to move and there will be some bruising. Weight bearing will be painful.

Grade 3 – a complete tear through a ligament. There will be severe pain, swelling, loss of joint motion and inability to walk. The ankle is often unstable and bruising is more extensive. Even a grade 3 injury can be treated effectively if addressed properly.

Consequences of ankle sprain

The consequences of an ankle sprain can be serious, both in the short and longer term. Pain due to bone, cartilage and soft tissue injury, and recurrent sprains due to muscle weakness and tissue damage can all occur. This is why early attention to the injury is important.

If you truly cannot weight bear, or have bony tenderness, an x-ray to look for a fracture is indicated. After a sprain, your ankle may be swollen and painful for some time.

Some simple suggestions that may help you to recover

Rest – In the first 24 -48 hours after an ankle sprain, you may wish to rest the ankle. If you do so, try to elevate it (for example place your leg on a stool or chair) to try to keep the swelling down. After 24 – 48 hours it is important to try to start to try to walk on the ankle, progressively building up the time that you are on your feet. This will prevent wasting of the muscles and other important tissue.

Ice – Ice, or a bag of frozen peas, placed in a moist tea towel applied to the ankle for 10-15 minutes every 2 hours, may help to reduce the pain and swelling. Gently rubbing the ice pack over the painful area may also help. Don’t use ice of you have a circulatory problem. Heat is not useful in the initial injury; nor is massage.

Painkillers – such as ibuprofen may also reduce the pain and swelling.

Stretching and Exercises – Begin some simple exercises as early as possible, as these are very important to prevent stiffness and weakness. Do not stretch too far in the first 48 hours, but gentle motion is generally good.

© Copyright | Professor Cathy Speed