How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Stay Swollen?

How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Stay Swollen?

Sprained ankles are the pits. They can happen to anyone, whether you're an athlete sprinting toward a goal line or just a regular Joe out going for a leisurely walk a little too close to the curb. As you watch your ankle slowly begin to balloon up, you wonder, "How long does a sprained ankle stay swollen?"

Sprained ankles stay swollen as little as a few days and as long as a few weeks. Your ankle will stay swollen longer if you have a more severe sprain and if you neglect to treat the ankle diligently.

How Long Does a Sprained Ankle Stay Swollen?

You can expect to have a sprained ankle for at least a few days if not a week.

Swelling and pain are the first signs of a sprained ankle. Sprained ankles do not just happen randomly. They result from some sort of trauma to the joint.

You will know if you've injured your ankle. The real question is, how severe is your sprain? The answer to this question will determine how long you can expect your ankle to stay swollen.

Doctors diagnose the severity of a sprained ankle with a three grade system.

Grade 1 Ankle Sprain

Doctors refer to this sprain as a mild sprain. When you overstretch your ligament you will have some slight swelling, pain, and bruising around the joint. You should still be able to put a moderate amount of weight on the ankle.

With a grade 1 sprain, you may even be able to walk with a sprain, unassisted.

Because you did not tear any ligaments or tendons and just stretched them, you will recover more quickly with a grade 1 ankle sprain. With the right treatment, you might find yourself resuming normal activity within a week of the injury.

Grade 2 Ankle Sprain

A grade 2 sprain takes more toll on the body than a grade 1 sprain. Doctors will diagnose the sprain as grade 2 if overstretching the ligament causes a partial tear in it. In the case of a grade 2 sprain, you tore some tissue.

Because you partially tear a ligament with a grade 2 sprain, you will not be able to easily or quickly put weight on your ankle. Your joint will feel wobbly because you've compromised the stability of it. Your ankle will swell, bruise, and hurt.

Logically, a grade 2 sprain will have more swelling and a longer period of swelling than a grade 1 ankle sprain. You will need a more diligent and longer-term treatment plan for a grade 2 sprain.

Grade 3 Ankle Sprain

A grade 3 ankle sprain is a severe sprain. This is the one where you feel or even hear a pop in your ankle as you go down. With a grade 3 sprain, you completely tear the ligament holding your ankle joint together.

Because you've torn the ligament completely, you will have little to no stability on your ankle.

Perhaps you've heard that in some cases a sprain is worse than a break. That is the case with a grade 3 ankle sprain. This type of sprain will take a solid six weeks or more to heal, and you may even end up having to have surgery to repair the torn ligament.

You will not be able to put weight on your ankle without a significant amount of pain. You will have significant swelling, bruising, and pain as you endure the recovery of a grade 3 sprain.

Why Does Your Ankle Swell After a Sprain?

Your ankle swells when you sprain it because you've overstretched the ligaments that hold your ankle together. Swelling is the body's inflammatory response to the injury. To truly understand what happens when you sprain your ankle, we need to go back to the basics of ankle anatomy.

Ankle Anatomy 101

Consider the anatomy of the ankle. Your ankle consists of three bones.

  1. Tibia: this is one of your lower leg bones. It forms the inside part of your ankle. So the knob on the inside of your leg is the knob of your tibia.
  2. Fibula: this is the other lower leg bone. It forms the outside part of your ankle. The knob on the outside of your ankle is the knob of the fibula.
  3. Talus: this is the bone underneath the tibia and fibula.

These three bones, connected with ligaments, control the up and down motion of your foot.

You have another part f the ankle joint that consists of the talus and the calcaneus. The talus is an upper bone in this case and the calcaneus is the lower bone.

The connection between these two bones creates allows for side-to-side motion.

All of these bones are connected with a set of ligaments. Cartilage covers the ends of the bones as well. Tendons connect the bones to the muscles that ultimately control the joint.

What Happens When You Sprain Your Ankle?

When you sprain your ankle, you essentially overextend the joint. You roll your ankle to the outside or inside of your leg, and you stretch and sometimes tear ligaments and tendons that hold the ankle joint together.

The result is an unstable and incredibly painful joint. Your ankle joint will fill with fluid as a result of the trauma to the joint. The fluid could be blood from broken blood vessels or just the fluid of the bursa sacs that cushion and lubricate your bones when you move.

How Do I Know I've Sprained My Ankle? 

If you've rolled your ankle joint, you most likely have sustained at least a grade 1 sprain. You will not know how bad your sprain is with certainty until you visit a doctor.

If you're in a significant amount of pain, you can always visit an emergency department or urgent care facility. If you can wait for a clinic visit, then do so. You do not need emergency care for a basic sprained ankle unless you think you've suffered a grade 3 sprain.

Your doctor will ask you how you hurt your ankle as well as what your symptoms are. He will want to know if you could stand or walk after you sustained the injury. Many doctors can diagnose a sprained ankle with just basic conversation about how you sustained the injury and what your symptoms were afterward.

Sometimes a doctor will use a more technical diagnostics procedure. They may order an X-ray if you cannot walk more than four or five steps or if your bone is tender. They may also order an ultrasound scan or MRI to see if you have stretched or torn your ligaments.

Sprained Ankle Symptoms

You can diagnose a basic sprain on your own if you know the symptoms of a sprained ankle. They're pretty basic.

  • Swelling: If your ankle begins to swell to a point that you can no longer see the bone, you may have sprained your ankle.
  • Bruising: If you've sprained your ankle, you will see significant bruising. You may not see it immediately, but within a day it will develop. You will see purple and deep blue blotches around the ankle bone.
  • Pain: Sprained ankles are painful. You will have mild to severe pain, especially when you attempt to put weight on your ankle.
  • Unsteadiness: Your ankle ligaments hold your ankle joint together. When you overstretch those ligaments, you loose the joint, creating an unsteady footing. If you feel like the joint is loose or you're unsteady on your feet, you may have sprained your ankle.

Be aware of these symptoms even before you go into the doctor. They will ask you about them specifically. Being ready with answers will allow your doctor to come up with a thorough diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

What Can I Do to Reduce Swelling?

Swollen ankles look unsightly and feel uncomfortable even when you don't have a sprain. You can provide yourself with some swollen ankle relief by slowing down and doing these things regularly.

Begin with the RICE method of treatment.

Rest

If you've sprained your ankle, you're most likely already a fairly active person. Latent people do not sprain their ankles. Your status as an active person makes this first step all the more important.

Take time to rest. Do not muscle through the pain to do one more thing for one more person. Do not attempt to go out and keep running or walking through the discomfort.

Sit down. Do not put more weight on your foot. The more you take this first step seriously, the more quickly you'll be back to your routine, and the more quickly your swelling will go down.

Ice

As you rest, use cold therapy to reduce your swelling. This means you need ice or an ice pack or an ice bath to see your swelling reduce quickly.

Ice has proven to reduce inflammation in an injured joint. Big, flexible ice packs work nicely because they can form to the joint you're attempting to treat.

For an ankle, though, you can do better.

Get a large bucket, like a five-gallon pail. Fill it with cold water and a small bag or a few trays of ice. Then immerse your foot in the water for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.

This treatment will help you see your swelling go down quickly because you're hitting every part of the joint with anti-inflammatory cold treatment. This is also a pretty uncomfortable treatment, but it is incredibly effective.

Compression

Once you've iced your foot, you need to compress it. Use an ace bandage or a compression sleeve made specifically for ankles. Compression will help your swelling stay down after you've iced your ankle.

Compression also helps stabilize the joint. You've overstretched the ligaments, so your joint can easily go out of place again. A compression wrap or brace will keep your joint in line as you work on walking again.

Elevate

As you rest, put your feet up. Elevate your injured ankle above your heart.

When you elevate your foot, the fluid from your swollen ankle will flow down, and you'll see your swelling reduced. Plus, you'll have to rest because no one can be active with their ankle above their head.

Elevation has proven to be so effective, runners who do not have injuries will engage in it after they run. When an endurance runner spends an hour on their feet, they'll use "leg drains" as a way to recover more quickly and reduce the swelling that ultimately occurs in their ankles and legs. They sit down with their rear against a wall and their legs above them, with hips at a 90-degree angle.

Elevating your legs is a key to seeing your swelling go down. The pros have proven it. It's a major way for how to reduce ankle swelling in a sprained ankle.

RICE is a great general way to treat any injury. With an ankle sprain, you can treat the injury according to the grade of sprain you sustained.

Things to Avoid

The things you do like RICE will help you recover quickly. They're the best answer in how to treat a swollen ankle. You can avoid certain activities as well to help you regain mobility.

  • Avoid heat. Stay away from hot baths or heat packs immediately after an injury.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol slows down your recovery and also impairs your judgment. It can affect your ability to stay well.
  • Avoid running. Running junkies listen up. You cannot run on a sprained ankle. You need to let it heal completely before you run on it.
  • Avoid massage. Do not massage your injury. This will only increase bruising and swelling within the first few days after the injury. Just rest, ice, compress, and elevate.

Fat Ankles Be Gone

Swollen ankles stink right up there with the sprain that causes them. If you're patient and treat your ankle right, you will see your swelling go down and your mobility return.

How long does a sprained ankle stay swollen? Your treatment of your ankle will ultimately answer this question.

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