How Severe Is My Ankle Sprain?

Spraining your ankle is the most common ankle injury, and it occurs when the ligaments in the ankle are either torn or stretched beyond their limit.  People who have suffered from sprained ankles in the past have a higher risk of re-spraining their ankle in the future.  Other people who have a high risk for ankle sprains are those with weak leg muscles or unsteady feet (i.e., feet that tend to “roll over”).   

Ankle sprains run the gamut from injuries that you can “walk-off” to injuries that require surgery.  Sprains are usually classified into three degrees.

If you notice swelling and mild pain in your ankle, but are still able to bear some weight on your foot, you most likely have a first degree ankle sprain.  This is the most minor form of the injury and usually results from overstretching the ligament.  The best way to treat a first degree ankle sprain is with R.I.C.E..  This helpful acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression (usually with the help of a compressive bandage) and Elevation.  If you think you’ve sprained your ankle, start R.I.C.E. immediately.  Give your foot several days rest, elevate and ice the ankle as much as possible and wear a compressive bandage at all times.  Your ankle should be back to normal in a few days.

Second degree ankle sprains are characterized by moderate to severe pain, swelling and stiffness.  The best way to tell the difference between a first and second degree sprain is by the amount of weight you are able to put on your foot.  Sprained ankles that can bear some weight are generally first degree; people with second degree sprains find it extremely painful to put even a little bit of weight on their ankle.  In addition to R.I.C.E., ankles with second degree sprains may need to be splinted.  Crutches may also be necessary to help the injured person get around.  

Third degree sprains are characterized by severe pain followed by no pain at all.  They occur when the ligament is torn.  Symptoms include severe swelling and complete dysfunction of the joint.  R.I.C.E. is still a good starting point when it comes to treating third degree sprains.  But a doctor should be consulted immediately, and the injured party should be prepared to undergo surgery or have their ankle put in a cast for several weeks.