How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Take to Heal?

A sportswoman with an injured ankle.

When you twist your ankle or it is impacted in an injury, you may experience a sprain. Anyone who has had a sprained ankle knows that it can be painful and limit your movement while it heals. If you injure your ankle, it is important to know whether it is a sprain or strain and how to best facilitate the healing process. If you wonder, “How long does a sprained ankle take to heal?” here is what you need to know about recovering from this injury.

What Is a Sprained Ankle?

Before talking about the healing time for sprained ankles, its important to understand the injury. There are many different types of ankle injuries, from fractures and strains to the sprained ankle. The ankle is a joint with three bones that are held together by ligaments. The ligaments allow the joint to turn and bend while still keeping the bones attached. When the ankle is forced beyond its normal range of motion, the ligaments can be stretched, damaged or torn, which is a sprained ankle.

Sprained ankles come in a variety of levels of severity. The severity of the sprain and location impacts how quickly it heals. When discussing how long does it take for a sprained ankle to heal, you need to know the severity and treatment recommended.

Treatment and Recovery for Sprained Ankle Injuries

The anatomy of a sprained ankle varies on which direction the ankle is turned and the ligaments that are damaged. Since there are three different bones involved, there are several ligaments joining the different bones to each other. The most common type of sprained ankle is an inversion injury, which involves the foot turning inward. This is called a lateral ankle sprain and it can damage the ligaments on the outer ankle. Less common are medial and syndesmotic ankle sprains, involving the inner ligaments and upper ligaments.

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Recovery and treatment for all types of sprained ankles will start with the basics – rest, ice, compression and elevation (R.I.C.E.). However, the severity of the sprain and type of sprain will determine the extent of treatment and recovery time. Severity levels include:

  • Grade 1. Slight stretching of the ligaments with some swelling, mild pain and tenderness. The ankle will still support weight and there is no ligament tearing.
  • Grade 2. Partial tearing of one or more ligaments with moderate pain, tenderness and swelling. Grade 2 can have bruising, pain with walking and some loss of motion/stability.
  • Grade 3. Full ligament tears or ruptures with severe pain, bruising and swelling. This is the most severe type of sprain and can result in significant instability and loss of motion.

Treatment for sprained ankle includes R.I.C.E. for all sprains and most will benefit from physical therapy to strengthen the ligaments and restore range of motion. In severe cases, treatment may involve using devices like crutches to allow the ligaments to heal. Grade 3 ankle sprains may require surgery if the ligaments do not heal on their own.

Healing Time for Sprained Ankles

How long does a sprained ankle take to heal? It depends on the patient, sprain and treatment used. In general, healing times for different sprain grades are as follows:

  • Grade 1: one to three weeks
  • Grade 2: three to six weeks
  • Grade 3: up to several months

When you turn your ankle and it begins to swell, it is likely a sprain. It may feel better in a week or two, or you may be headed for months of healing. The extent of the sprain is an important factor, but so is your treatment plan. If you rush your recovery, you may reinjure your ankle before it is completely healed. The first step is to see a doctor and follow your instructions for recovery.
A person touching their sprained ankle.

Treatment for Speedy Ankle Sprain Healing

Your doctor will want to examine your sprained ankle to determine the grade of sprain and the best treatment plan. You may need an MRI if it is suspected that ligaments are torn, or an x-ray if there is a possible fracture. Once the diagnosis is complete, your doctor can recommend medications for pain and swelling, compression garments, rest requirements and possibly physical therapy. At the minimum, a sprained ankle can heal in as little as a week, but it can also take many months to heal completely.

A sprained ankle can be painful and restrict your movements, but most people can heal completely. Your first thought after your injury may be, “How long does it take for a sprained ankle to heal?” The answer can be determined by your doctor – it is always a good idea to have an injured ankle evaluated in case it is fractured or you have a ruptured ligament or tendon. In most cases, sprained ankles will heal within a few weeks with a little rest followed by strengthening exercises.