Harvard Women's Health Watch

Recovering from an ankle sprain

Take it easy, but keep moving.

All it takes is a simple misstep, and suddenly you have a sprained ankle. It's one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in people of all ages, athletes and couch potatoes alike. The injury occurs when one or more of the ligaments in the ankle are stretched or torn, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty walking. Many people try to tough out ankle injuries and don't seek medical attention. But if a sprain causes more than slight pain and swelling, it's important to see a clinician. Without proper treatment and rehabilitation, a severely injured ankle may not heal well and could lose its range of motion and stability, resulting in recurrent sprains and more downtime than you'd like.

Anatomy of an ankle sprain

The most common type of ankle sprain is an inversion injury, or lateral ankle sprain. The foot rolls inward, damaging the ligaments of the outer ankle — the anterior talofibular ligament, the calcaneofibular ligament, and the posterior talofibular ligament. (Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone; see illustration.)

Ankle ligaments

Less common are sprains affecting the ligaments of the inner ankle (medial ankle sprains) and syndesmotic sprains, which injure the tibiofibular ligaments — the ligaments that join the two leg bones (the tibia and the fibula) just above the ankle. Syndesmotic sprains, which occur most often in contact sports, are especially likely to cause chronic ankle instability and subsequent sprains.

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