First Aid for Ankle Sprains

What is an Ankle Sprain?

Ankle SprainAnkle sprains are one of the most common athletic injuries. One of the biggest risk factors for having an ankle sprain is having had a previous ankle sprain. Therefore, proper treatment following your first ankle sprain is critical. When you roll and sprain your ankle, your ankle ligaments may partially or completely tear. This damage causes significant pain and inflammation.

What is the best first aid for ankle sprains?

You may have heard of PRICE when it comes to treating sports injuries. It stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. With a mild ankle sprain, this may be all you need for a quick recovery and return to your activity. However, keep in mind that PRICE is only for basic, immediate treatment and that anything beyond a mild sprain should be properly evaluated and treated.

Protection

This is an important step. Your ankle ligaments are injured and possibly torn. If not treated properly, you increase your risk for having another ankle injury. There are a couple ways to protect your ankle depending on the severity of your injury. For mild injuries, you should protect your ankle in a brace for at least a few days. Severe ankle sprains should be protected and immobilized in a walking boot for up to a few weeks.

A study published earlier this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared the benefits of wearing an ankle brace versus undergoing a home-based neuromuscular training program following an ankle sprain. They found that those athletes who wore a brace were about half as likely to suffer another ankle sprain as those who simply performed ankle strengthening exercises.

Relative Rest

Your injured ankle ligaments will heal faster if they are allowed to rest. Try to minimize pressure and motion to your ankle as much as possible for the first 24 hours or longer depending on the severity of the sprain. Once the pain has resolved, gentle range of motion exercises should be encouraged.

Ice

Ice will help decrease pain, swelling, and inflammation. Do not apply ice directly to your bare skin; wrap the ice in a thin towel. Apply ice for 10-15 minutes up to three times a day.

Compression

Swelling from the injury contributes to the pain. Compressing the ankle with an elastic bandage (ACE wrap) will help reduce swelling and pain. Start wrapping the bandage at the toes and finish above the ankle at the calf. The bandage should feel snug but not too tight. If it is too tight, it may actually cause increased your pain or even limit your circulation.

Elevation

Try to elevate your injured ankle above your heart. This will allow gravity to aid in the reduction of swelling. Elevate your foot for at least the first couple days.

If you are still unable to walk after 48 hours, see your podiatrist for further evaluation and treatment recommendations. Seek treatment immediately for severe ankle sprains to prevent further damage to your ankle.


Janssen KW, van Mechelen W, Verhagen EALM. Br J Sports Med. 7 Jan 2014. Bracing superior to neuromuscular training for the prevention of self-reported recurrent ankle sprains: a three-arm randomised controlled trial.

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