What is a Lateral Ankle Sprain? Causes, Treatment, Recovery

What is a Lateral Ankle Sprain? Causes, Treatment, Recovery

Spraining your ankle is one of the most common ankle injuries, and most of us will at least mildly sprain our ankle at least once in our lifetimes. Moderate to severe sprains can be extremely painful and even debilitating for hours or days after the injury. Failing to treat this injury sufficiently can leave your ankle weakened and prone to future injury.

Read on to learn how to treat this injury properly. 

What is a lateral ankle sprain?

There are several types of ankle sprains but by far the most common is the lateral ankle sprain (also called an inversion ankle sprain or a supination ankle sprain). A sprain is simply damage caused to the ligaments of a joint by overstretching them, usually caused by the foot turning inward, so you end up “rolling” your ankle and standing on the outside of your foot. Specifically, a lateral ankle sprain is caused when the ligaments on the outside of the joint are overstretched, sometimes causing tears in the ligaments. 

What are the symptoms of a lateral ankle sprain?

The major symptom of this injury is pain on the outside of the ankle immediately after the injury and is often accompanied by swelling of the damaged area. There may be signs of bruising, stiffness (particularly after sleep or resting) that eases with use, and tenderness of the ligaments. In severe sprains, the ankle might also show signs of instability and deep bruising.

Most of the time, you can still weight-bear on that leg, albeit unpleasant, though in severe strains this may not be the case. If you feel unable to stand on the leg, experience severe swelling or bruising, it’s best to speak to your doctor to get an x-ray to ascertain the extent of the ligament damage and ensure the pain isn’t caused by a fracture.

Can you walk on a lateral ankle sprain?

For mild to moderate sprains, you should be able to walk on your sprain if necessary. However, you’ll probably not want to, and it is advisable to rest and keep weight off the damaged ankle as further strain will almost certainly lengthen recovery and may cause further damage. Severe strains usually make it impossible to walk without crutches.

Don’t shrug off the pain and think you can “walk it off”; sprains are not like that. Try to rest your ankle as much as possible for at least 24 hours after injury. 

How do you treat a lateral ankle sprain?

It is rare for any sprain, however severe, to require surgery and mild and moderate sprains don’t often require a visit to a doctor. Rest your ankle for 24-72 hours, apply ice often until the swelling goes down, keep your ankle elevated, and take anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen – these actions are usually all that is required for a full recovery.

However, if the pain and swelling persist you should certainly get medical advice if only to reassure you that it is a sprain and that the treatment is correct.

As swelling reduces and the pain lessens, recovery is helped by starting a course of gentle motion exercises and stretching. The intensity and complexity of exercise can be increased as recovery progresses, but don’t rush it.

Our eBook – Joint Health 101 – can guide you through the exercises required for rehabilitation and the prevention of further injury. This book not only deals with the ankle but other key joints that are often under strain.

How long does it take a lateral ankle sprain to heal?

Soft tissue injuries like sprains require time to heal. It may take around 6 weeks to completely recover from even mild sprains, though usually this will be limited to three or four. In severe sprains, you may be looking at anything up to six months. Do not be in a hurry to return to high-impact sports; torn ligaments will only mend slowly. Exercising vigorously too soon may set back recovery substantially and cause you to be prone to ankle injuries in the future. The best thing you can do is take things slowly and listen to your body, focusing on conditioning your ankle and body for strength and flexibility.

How do I rehabilitate my ankle after a lateral sprain?

As we talked about above, focus on building up time walking on even ground and support this with gentle stretching exercises, adding in strengthening exercises as soon as you feel able. Our eBook Joint Health 101 contains a detailed program for ankle rehabilitation so to get your copy, click here.