How to manage at home after a simple sprain

If you have a minor sprain, these basic methods may help you recover.

Sprained ankles are among the most common sports injuries that athletes suffer. The right information can get you on track to recover as quickly and safely possible. 

It can happen at any timeAll it takes is a misstep while running or another player landing on top of your foot and ankle, and suddenly you have a sprained ankle. Sprains are musculoskeletal injuries that occur when ligaments (bands of fibrous tissue) are stretched or torn. Most sprains are inversion sprains, or damage to the anterior talofibular ligament, the calcaneofibular ligament, and the posterior talofibular ligament of the outer ankle. Inner ankle sprains also occur, though less frequently.

The 3 grades of sprains 

According to Harvard Medical School, there are 3 grades of ankle sprain severity, with grade 1 being the least acute and grade 3 being the most acute. 

But what differentiates the severity levels?  

Grade 1 sprains are categorized by minimal stretching of the ligaments and no tearing. Because the damage to ligaments is less serious, the symptoms are typically mild pain, swelling and tenderness. These sprains typically do not result in bruising and it is not difficult to bear weight following the injury. Full recovery time is about 1-3 weeks. 

Grade 2 sprains are indicated by a partial tear. Partial tears of ligaments produce moderate pain, swelling and tenderness. In addition, you may experience joint instability and some loss of range of motion and function. The recovery period ranges from about 3-6 weeks. 

Grade 3 sprains represent the most serious injury, with ligaments undergoing a full tear or rupture. The results of grade 3 sprains are severe pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising. Most people experience significant joint instability and loss of function and range of motion. The foot will likely not be able to bear any weight, reducing your ability to walk. This grade of sprain is serious, and if you believe you have a grade 3 sprain, you should visit a doctor. The recovery time depends on many factors, but typically takes several months. 

Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE) 

Acute sprains should be seen by medical professionals as soon as possible. If you are unsure about the severity of a sprain, you should seek medical attention. If you have a sprain that seems non-acute based on swelling and pain levels, there are some steps you can take at home to target swelling. 

Many healthcare professionals recommend the tried and true classic: rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Particularly in cases where swelling and pain are notable, resting your foot for 24-48 hours is recommended. Pushing your foot to bear weight too soon can slow recovery or increase damage to ligaments. During the rest period, you should actively ice your foot and ankle or submerge in cold water to help reduce swelling. A good schedule to follow is icing for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 5 times per day until the swelling starts to subside. And don’t forget to place a towel between the cold pack and your foot to protect the skin. 

For further reductions in swelling, you should compress your ankle with elasticized wrap. Compression bandages or other elastic sleeves are good choices for compression. Lastly, you need to elevate the injured foot. While wrapped and seated, elevate your ankle as high as you comfortably can. Above the height of your hip is an ideal elevation level. 

When combined, these steps can help target inflammation and help reduce pain.  

Other steps 

In the first 24 hours following a sprain, it can be helpful to avoid activities that increase swelling, such as hot showers or hot packs. Additionally, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can be affective approaches to managing inflammation. These methods can be combined with the RICE regiment to help treat a sprain at home. 

Finally, always pay attention to what your body is telling you. If your pain and swelling does not improve or worsens, seek the advice of a medical professional. A safe recovery is far better than a rushed recovery.