The Ultimate Guide to Ankle Sprain Recovery | By Essential Wellness

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What is an Ankle Sprain

The term 'sprained' or 'twisted' is used to describe damage to the ligaments present in the ankle, most commonly caused by a sharp twisting, turning or rolling motion. The severity is graded on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being the most painful.

Ligaments are long and thin flexible yet tough fibrous tissue. They are used by the body to connect bones, cartilage and keep joints together. They can generally withstand quite a lot of force for their size however when they are stretched past their limit they develop tears in their fibres and it is this tearing which causes the pain.

As mentioned earlier, ankle sprains are graded on a scale of 1 to 3. Simply, it's used to signify the level of tearing which has occurred. However, even a level 1 sprain can feel very painful and difficult to walk on. At the other end of the scale if you've been unfortunate enough to suffer a grade 3 sprain then you are likely going through an extremely painful experience.

Recovery advice for a sprained ankle from Essential Wellness

recovery advice

A sprained ankle treatment which you can do at home is following the guidelines of PRICE. This stands for Protection, Rest, Icing, Compression and Elevation.

Act fast, the early stages are the most important and the quicker you apply PRICE to your ankle the faster your recovery time will be. This can be extremely important if you've still got the pressures and strains of life to contend with. The quicker you are back on your feet the better.

Let's run through these one by one.


Remember those ligaments we discussed earlier? Well they need looking after, and the less additional strain you put on them, the faster they can begin the repair process. The body is remarkable at self recovery, but trying to walk too early or accidental knocks can be big set back your recovery.

For the first few days we'd advise taking the weight off your ankle where you can. An ankle support is generally a good idea as they will provide immediate protection, encourage you to keep the ankle still and also help cushion the ankle in case of accidental knocks. The last thing you want it the dog jumping on the couch and landing on your injured foot! Ouch!

If you believe you're suffering from a grade 3 ankle sprain then we'd advise you purchase a sturdy ankle brace to give you the maximum amount of protection possible while still allowing you to get your foot into your trainers when needed.


Finally, a reason to binge Netflix at home! No seriously, we'd recommend fully resting up and giving your ankle the best chance of a speedy recovery. Generally more damage can be done by attempting to rush the process.

We appreciate this can be hard, especially when you consider a potential reduction of income from time off work, kids which need looking after and various life events which simply can't be missed. But if you're counting the days until you're fighting fit then the maths is a simple one. The sooner you rest up, the sooner you'll be back on your feet.


Chances are in addition to pain you're also experiencing some swelling? This is your body rushing blood and fluid to the area to provide a natural barrier to the outside world and try protect the ankle as much as possible.

Time to grab the bag of frozen peas! By applying ice (or as a last resort anything from the freezer) to the area you'll restrict the blood flow and provide a reduction to the swelling. As a side benefit, the cold can actually numb your pain a little making it a little more bearable.


While ice is a great and immediate treatment for the swelling, the practicalities of using tomorrows dinner to keep your pain and swelling down means you're going to need some other options. Applying firm and supporting compression being the chief among them.

If you're reading this and you're in a lot of pain, then this tip is going to be the one which helps you manage that in the best way possible. Swelling will add to the pain and discomfort you're experiencing due to the stretching of the skin and all that additional pressure on the nerves around your ankle.

In the early stages of your injury we'd advise not going for a standard compression sleeve. These are quite tight by design and to wear them you'll have to drag it over your foot like a sock! Ouch! Instead, a reinforcing ankle support will be much easier to put on, still provide adequate compression while giving you the benefit of much more protection for your ankle.


Right now, your body is working overtime to repair the damage and as a byproduct of all this activity it's producing waste substances which are no longer needed to assist the healing process. This waste is removed by your body's natural drainage system, called the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system isn't aided by the heart and relies on movement to work (this is why you're recommended to do stretches on a long-haul flight). Since you're in no fit state to stretch your ankle, using gravity is a brilliant way to assist your lymphatic system in removing the byproducts of tissue repair and also general swelling.

To elevate the ankle, be sure that it is higher than your hips, any lower and you won't be getting the benefits which elevation provides.

4 Key Tips for a Sprained Ankle by Essential Wellness Physiotherapists

The role of an ankle support in speeding up your recovery

Wearing a support can accelerate healing by giving your ankle the time and stability it needs for your body to repair the damaged ligaments. If you've recently sprained your ankle, take the time to regularly ice the swelling when you're not wearing the support.

Taking these precautions will help to speed up your healing and get you back on track in the following ways.

Gives your ligaments a rest

Remember that the whole reason that you're in so much pain is the damage done to the ligaments of your ankle. These tough fibrous bands are required to keep your ankle in the correct position while standing, walking and moving around, something which we know you'll be itching to do. Even though you've got to rest up, life keeps moving on regardless.

By wearing an ankle support you are giving the little guys a break from needing to be fully engaged all the time. And instead, the support takes the majority of the pressures and strains allowing you to become active much quicker than without wearing one at all.

Improves your stability

Let's fast forward past the initial trauma of the ankle injury. You've applied PRICE and a few days to a week later you're starting to feel a little more mobile. You'll still likely feel a little wobbly and unsteady on your feet. In this stage unfortunately you are actually at an increased risk of setting back your recovery.

One wrong turn, done too fast... that slightly loose paving stone at the end of your garden path... a neighbours over eager dog which runs to greet you just like he normally does. All these things and more can tweak the still tender ligaments and unsettle the newly repaired scar tissue.

An ankle support will afford you a greater degree of confidence in your movements and protection from these inevitable trials of life.

Manages your swelling

Chances are the swelling you are experiencing is going to stick around for a while longer yet. Remember that swelling isn't inherently bad, it's just your body trying to do it's best to protect and repair the damage.

However, this swelling will make it difficult to pull on your sock in the morning, and you may find it extremely hard to put your shoes on or feel comfortable when you're in them.

Often, you'll find that in the morning your swelling has eased off a little (due partly to elevation) but that quickly throughout the day it will get progressively worse as you gingerly walk around the house. By applying your ankle support first thing in the morning you can control the amount of swelling and keep it to more acceptable levels. If you're careful enough while putting it on, the compression ankle sleeve is outstanding at controlling swelling throughout the day.

Can you perform an emergency stop?

Let's remind ourselves what an emergency stop actually is. Rapid, firm and intense pressure on both the clutch and the brake at the same time! Now, of course, if you've injured your left foot and you drive an automatic then it's less of a consideration. But for driving a manual car in the UK, both feet will be required to stop in an emergency and they will be needed hard and fast.

Unsure? Can you stand on one leg - the one you injured obviously ;) Now try lifting up on to your toes, if you managed both of those then these are good signs. You could even head to your car and test your confidence pressing the pedal prior to starting the engine. But remember that a short nip around the corner is different to a long drive to the supermarkets plus a long walk around the aisles and back again. Let your common sense prevail.

Good signs that you are safe to drive

  • You can roll your ankle around, point your toes back and forward with little to no pain
  • You can stand on one leg (balance permitting)
  • You can press the brake and/or clutch with no issues
  • Your walking pattern is normal and an outside observer wouldn't say that you had a limp

Bad signs that you are not safe to drive

  • You have pain in your ankle even when sitting down with no pressure on it
  • You have difficulty getting up and down the stairs using alternative steps - left foot, then right foot, then left foot again etc...
  • You have severe swelling and/or bruising to the point where you struggle to get your usual shoes on
  • Your walking pattern is abnormal and an outside observer would say that you had a limp
Ultimately, the choice is yours whether you are able to drive or not. If you do plan on getting behind the wheel consider purchasing an ankle support, as you may find wearing one means you are able to show all the good signs you are able to drive and none of the bad signs.

Sprained Ankle Recovery Time

The first 1 to 3 days

The immediate few days after sustaining your ankle injury the pain will be at it's greatest. The likelihood is that you're experiencing significant swelling and even slight movement causes flare-ups in pain. Familiarise yourself with PRICE and regularly ice the ankle in the affected area.

Even though it may be painful try to gently keep your ankle mobile using slow rolls and stretches. This activity however minor will help to prevent your ankle from seizing up from inactivity and you'll thank yourself for it further down the line. If you find that you struggle to bear your own weight and you're limping heavily, then unfortunately you're not ready to go back into work just yet, and rest is the most important consideration right now. If your role doesn't normally allow working from home now might be the time to ask.

This is the perfect time to grab yourself an ankle support to provide your ankle added protection over the next 4 to 6 weeks. The Essential Wellness Reinforcing Ankle Support has an additional reinforcing strap which can be wrapped around the part of your ankle which needs the greatest level of protection and support. Perfect for if your sprain is higher up in the ankle or lower down towards the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel.

The next 3 to 7 days

Now you've made it through the initial few days where the pain tends to be the worst. You should start to feel the tenderness subside a little. We'd advise you to still follow the PRICE guidelines and not to take too many chances with your ankle. As the pain lessens it will be tempting to walk around more and attempt to get back to normal as quickly as possible. But one wrong step here (literally!) can massively set you back in your recovery timescale.

Keep on wearing your ankle support and you should find that wearing your support actually allows you to walk further and more confidently than when you don't have it on. If you struggle to get your normal pair of shoes on, still can't fully bear your weight or have difficulty going up and down stairs then I'm sorry to say, you are still not ready to go back to work. However, those who just suffered from a minor tweak of the ligaments (ligament strain) rather than perhaps a full blown sprain may feel confident enough to return to work.

7 to 21 days after the injury

The wide gap of 14 days in this section is mainly due to the three possible grades of sprain which you could of suffered from. If you were 'fortunate' enough to suffer from a lighter grade 1 sprain then each day you wake up you'll be feeling significantly more confident and secure on your feet. Care should still be taken not to aggravate your ligaments as it won't take much to put you back at square one. But by now you should be feeling confident enough to return to work.

Heavier grade 2 or 3 sprains will feel their recovery coming towards the back-end of this recovery timescale. However, day by day you should be able to feel the strength returning to your ankle. Keep wearing your ankle support during any activity you must do although activities such as taking the stairs should be relatively easy for you now and unless your job involves long distance driving or standing on your feet being active for 6 to 8 hours per day you should be ready to go back to work. If you have an active job such as a nurse, construction site worker or any other job which requires you to cover a lot of ground during the day you may still find that your ankle starts to swell and become painful towards the back end of the day.

The final 21 to 42 days

By now your body should have done a fantastic job of repairing the damaged ligaments and you should have no trouble returning to full activity levels. In fact, for most people the pain will already be a distant memory and if you fall into the majority then by now you're only wearing your ankle support when required to do strenuous exercise. Think dancing, going to the gym and playing sports where in these and similar higher impact activities you'll still want to take additional precautions just in case. The last thing you want is for you to be out on a run and take a kerb in the wrong way!

If you aggravate your ankle during the recovery phase you'll set your timeline back a little and if that was the case you may still have some pain. If your symptoms persist past this point or you didn't aggravate your ankle but still can't stand on one foot, stand on your toes or break into a fast walk then please seek advice from your local GP or physiotherapist.

Sprained Ankle Recovery Time

Next Steps

In terms of your next steps, hopefully by now you've got your foot up above your hip with a frozen pack of the local supermarkets finest garden peas cooling your ankle, taking some of that inflammation away.

Make sure to purchase an ankle brace to support your recovery, as whichever way you look at it protecting, supporting and compressing your ankle will shave a significant number of days off your recovery time. There isn't an exact science when choosing which one to go for.

If your pain isn't too bad or swelling is your main consideration then go for the ankle compression sleeve.

The ankle brace is rigid and gives the maximum amount of support if you've been unlucky enough to suffer a grade 3 sprain.

Finally, the reinforcing ankle support is the all-rounder and if you are unsure which support to choose, this is the one. It gives enough compression to rival the sleeve while being able to open out fully in order to put your tender foot into it. And, the reinforcing strap means you can support the exact area which is damaged.