Signs & symptoms of an ankle sprain

Updated February 21, 2017

Sprained ankles are very common. Although a sprained ankle can be treated at home, long-term problems can develop from an improperly treated sprain, turning a casual injury into a chronic problem.


An ankle is sprained when you have stretched or torn the ligaments surrounding the joint. Usually a sprain will occur when your body moves but your foot stays planted firmly in the ground or when you accidentally roll your foot inward or outward to the side. Any movement that forces the ankle out of its joint will cause a sprain. The more swollen and painful your ankle is, the more badly it is sprained.

Signs and Symptoms

The first sign of a sprained ankle is immediate pain after the injury. You may hear a pop or snap within your foot. The ankle will begin to swell, show mild bruising, feel stiff, will be tender to the touch and will feel wobbly or unstable if you attempt to put weight on it.

Sprains can range from mild to severe, depending on how stretched or torn the ligaments are. The swelling in a mild sprain will typically reduce within the week. A severe sprain, however, can be very painful. It will stay swollen and will make it nearly impossible to walk or put weight on the hurt foot.


Since ankle sprains are so common, it can be very tempting to just let them heal on their own, especially with a mild sprain. But sprains that are not properly treated can cause problems later. An untreated sprain can result in chronic ankle instability. Even after the ankle has supposedly healed, it will be forever uncomfortable, unstable and may swell from time to time.

Untreated sprains in children can cause growth deficiencies if a growth plate is involved in the sprain and can cause weakness in the leg or walking problems.


Sprains can be treated at home as long as it is done properly and larger symptoms are not ignored. When your ankle is sprained, remember the RICE Method:

Rest--Get off the ankle immediately and avoid putting too much pressure on it until it is more stable.

Ice--Use ice to take down the swelling in the foot. Put ice cubes in a plastic bag, wrap it in a thin towel and apply it directly to the swelling.

Compression--Wrap your sprain with an Ace bandage or any other stabilising brace. Do not wrap so tightly that your foot tingles or turns blue.

Elevation--Prop your foot above your chest for two to three hours a day. This will help keep the bruising and swelling down.

Follow the RICE method up with an over-the-counter pain medication. This will also help reduce the pain and swelling.

When to See the Doctor

With a severe sprain, the doctor may be needed to test whether or not you have fractured or broken any bones. In a particularly nasty sprain, where one of the ligaments has torn completely, the doctor may need to surgically repair the ankle.

See your doctor if the pain is extremely severe, your foot is cool or pale, you heard a popping sound at the time of the sprain, your foot is numb or you can't move or put slightest weight on the ankle.

In mild sprains, try home treatment first but see the doctor if there is no improvement after one week or pain and swelling are still around after two weeks of treatment.

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About the Author

Lily Obeck is a copywriter based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She writes for print, online, outdoor and broadcast marketing, with expertise in health, education and lifestyle topics. Obeck holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Texas and works as a part-time children's library assistant.