It could happen when you’re stepping off a curb, walking over uneven ground, as you jump to make a shot on the basketball court or stretch to hit a tennis ball.
You land hard, roll your ankle and feel a jolt of pain.
A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments holding the bones in the ankle together are stretched beyond their limits and tear. It’s a common injury among people of all ages and usually can be treated at home.
“The first step in caring for a sprained ankle is to begin treating the symptoms,” says Dargan Ervin, senior physical therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at Carolina Forest.
The 'RICE' method
He advises following four steps by keeping the acronym “RICE” in mind– rest, ice, compression and elevate.
Staying off the injured ankle, wrapping it with an ACE bandage, icing it and keeping it elevated should lead to a decrease in the swelling and pain.
“If within three to four days you can’t put weight on it and it is still painful, then you’d want to consider visiting with a physician,” Ervin says.
He also recommends seeking immediate medical care if the ankle is extremely swollen or if the foot is not in alignment. Those symptoms could suggest a fracture, he says.
Once you’ve managed the symptoms and can put weight on the ankle, the next step is rehabilitation to make sure it doesn’t become a chronic problem. He urges anyone who’s suffered a sprained ankle to take it easy and to work their way back to full functionality.
The focus of rehabilitation should be on regaining your strength, mobility and balance.
“That’s essential in helping to ensure the sprained ankle doesn’t become a chronic problem,” he says.
He recommends calf stretches, runner’s stretches and heel raises to help restore function and balance.
“When doing heel raises you can stand at a counter and lightly hold or touch it as you rebuild your balance,” he says.
A sprained ankle may not seem like a serious injury, but it’s essential to give your body time to heal.
“Anyone who is returning to a dynamic activity wants to make sure they’re recovered,” Ervin says. “If not, you increase your chance of re-injury.”