Types of Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries. They can happen to anyone, not just athletes. Even a simple misstep can injure your ankle during everyday activities. Understanding the types of ankle sprains can help you recognize symptoms and seek help to heal your ankle as quickly as possible.

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What causes a sprained ankle?

A sprained ankle is caused by any activity that stretches or tears the ligaments in the ankle. Strong ligaments stabilize the joint and maintain balance while standing, walking, and performing physical activities.

When the ankle ligaments are stretched too far, small tears or even a complete tear can occur. A sprained ankle can be caused by:

  • Walking, running, or jumping on an uneven surface
  • Landing wrong while jumping or playing sports, causing your ankle to roll
  • Slipping or falling down
  • Playing sports that require quick changes in direction such as basketball, football, or soccer

Even something as simple as stepping off a curb can cause an injury. You do not have to be performing strenuous physical activity to sprain your ankle.

Degrees of Ankle Sprains

There are three degrees of ankle sprains. The type of sprain you’ve sustained will determine your treatment options and recovery time.

First degree ankle sprains are the mildest. In most cases the ligament has been stretched but has not torn. You may experience minor pain and some stiffness or swelling.

Second degree ankle sprains typically involve a partial tear of the ligament. This is the most common type of ankle sprain and is characterized by moderate pain in addition to swelling, bruising, and some difficulty with movement.

Third degree sprains occur when the ligament has torn completely. This is the most severe type of sprain, and typically involves immense pain, swelling, loss of motion, and joint instability. You should see a doctor very soon to choose the correct form of treatment.

Non-Surgical & Surgical Treatment Options

Mild sprains can usually be treated at home with the RICE method. RICE stands for:

  • Rest and refrain from walking as much as possible
  • Ice can be used to keep the swelling down three or four times per day for 20 minutes at a time
  • Compression dressings like bandages or wraps for stabilizing your joint
  • Elevate your foot above the heart

Moderate sprains can be treated with non-surgical treatments. You may have crutches or an immobilization brace to keep the joint stable. Adhere to the RICE method while at home.

Although rare, occasionally surgical treatment is necessary. During the procedure, any fragments of bone or cartilage are removed and the torn ligament is repaired.

You may also have physical therapy to build up the muscle around the joint, prevent stiffness, and promote healing. Treatment can be paired with an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or naproxen to alleviate pain and swelling.

Mild sprains can take approximately two weeks to heal, while moderate to severe sprains can take six to 12 weeks. Dr. Dickerson is an accomplished podiatrist and ankle surgeon, so he has a deep understanding of ankle injuries. He will help you develop a custom treatment plan to recoup as much movement and functionality as possible.

Learn more about Foot and Ankle Injuries.

15 Comments


Thanks for helping me understand that a bruised and swelling sprained ankle is already in the second degree. With that in mind, I will take my child to a doctor first thing tomorrow because it is how his foot looks like now. He just got injured because he was not able to calculate his move well when he tried a trick in skateboarding.

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I totally agree when you said that you can easily get injured by stepping off a curb badly. This is the reason why my sister has a problem with her ankle. She was jogging this morning when she did not notice the curb that made her trip. Now, she might have to undergo a surgery since it seems severe.

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    Millie,

    I’m sorry to hear about your sister. I hope she recovered well.

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I wanted to thank you for helping me learn more about different types of ankle sprains. It’s good to know that with a third degree sprain you should see a doctor to learn what treatment you need. I’m kind of interested to learn if the treatment you get could depend on how recent the sprain is or if it just depends on how severe it is.

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    Ankle sprains should resolve over a 2 month period of time. If the pain becomes more chronic, then you should be evaluated in our office. Treatment does depend on severity of the ankle sprain. It is best to evaluate an ankle sprain right away to rule out a fracture or severe ligament tear.

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I do play a lot of basketball and I always try to stay safe while playing, but I will turn an ankle every now and then. As you said, there are different degrees of ankle sprains depending on their severity. I’m sure that I’ve only had first degree ones in the past as I fully recovered. Now if it were any worse, then I would for sure see about seeking help from a doctor.

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This is very informative. There are many types of sprains and it need proper first aid for handling such sprains. A proper crepe bandage must be used to support and ease the muscles for quick recovery.

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I was unaware that second-degree ankle sprains usually imply a minor tear of a ligament. I think that getting back to work may be hard after an injury, so it’s important to work with a business that can offer useful treatments. If I were to suffer an injury that kept me from going to work, I would make sure to contact the best company around that can offer me the help I need.

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I agree that ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries out there. I’ve heard that my cousin was out running last week and sprained his ankle. Since the doctor told me that his ligament was torn completely, I will take him to an injury treatment service to have him treated as soon as possible.

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This Was very helpful thank you. I just have a question though. What if it happens multiple times to the exact same ankle? This is my third time having a severe sprain and on the same ankle each time. I’m worried that my ankle will never me the same again.

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    Occasionally some patients with previous ankle sprains can go on to develop chronic ankle instability which will lead to repeated ankle sprains with certain activities, such as walking on uneven ground. This often happens because the previously injured ligaments lose their normal tension and heal in a lengthened fashion. If this chronic instability persists and is preventing you from participating in your activity of choice, then surgery can be done to repair/retension the ligaments.

    Hope this helps! -Enrique Feria-Arias, MD

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Hello! Your article helped me. I just sprained myself while playing basketball at school. I just rested on the bleachers and then got home. I applied to medication quite late. Will it affect the healing of my ankle? And: Can I walk my injured ankle even though it’s only like a grade 1 sprain?

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    Hi Zachery,

    Typically, grade 1 low ankle sprains are fairly quick to recover from (in comparison to grades 2-3). They tend to present with minimal pain & swelling which quickly subsides over the course of a few days. The most important thing is to apply the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) immediately after the injury and take NSAID’s as needed for pain (it can also help with the inflammation & swelling). When it comes to grade 1 ankle sprains, immobilization or weight bearing restrictions aren’t necessary, and in fact we encourage patients to walk in regular shoes as soon as tolerated. If you continue to experience symptoms beyond 6 weeks, it’s important to go see an orthopedic surgeon for further evaluation to make sure nothing more complex occurred at the time of your injury.

    Hope that helps!

    -Dr. Feria-Arias

    Reply

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