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Ankle Sprain

An ankle sprain is a common injury that causes discomfort, swelling and sometimes bruising in and around the ankle. It happens when you twist or turn your ankle in an awkward way.

What is an ankle sprain?

The bones of the lower leg, called the tibia and fibula, meet together with the bone of the foot called the talus within the ankle joint. The ankle joint itself is held together with a complex network of muscles and fibrous tissues called ligaments and tendons.

An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments of the ankle, that connect the leg bones to the foot bone, are stretched or torn. Most commonly, an ankle sprain affects the outer ligaments of the ankle.

What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain?

The most common symptom of an ankle sprain is pain in the area where the ligament has been stretched or torn. You may experience a popping feeling or sound when you get the sprain.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising and/or skin discolouration
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Instability
  • Difficulty putting your foot to the floor or walking

What causes an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is caused by your ankle being moved out of its usual position.

There are some situations that may put you at greater risk of experiencing an ankle sprain:

  • Running, walking or climbing, especially on uneven ground
  • Playing sports where your foot can land awkwardly after pivoting or jumping, such as netball, or be trodden on, such as football
  • Having a condition that affects your balance
  • Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Wearing heeled or ill-fitting shoes
  • Having experienced previous ankle or foot injuries

How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?

If you have a trip or fall and feel pain and inflammation in your ankle, see your doctor. You may have a minor sprain that doesn’t need medical treatment, but it’s still important you speak to a medical professional to have a sprained ankle diagnosed.

Your doctor will ask you some questions about your general health and lifestyle, and if you can pinpoint exactly when your ankle pain started. They will also examine your ankle and gently move it around to feel for any further damage.

Sometimes it may be necessary to have an imaging scan (such as an ultrasound, x-ray, CT or MRI scan) to diagnose a sprain and to rule out anything more serious such as a broken bone in your ankle or leg.

How is an ankle sprain treated?

A minor ankle sprain can be treated at home by taking over the counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Resting your foot, elevating it and using an ice pack twice a day for ten to 15 minutes will also help.

Depending on your activity level and lifestyle, you may need physiotherapy after an ankle sprain to get you back to full fitness. Severe ankle sprains may require surgery – if your ankle is still unsteady after a lot of physiotherapy or doesn’t heal – but your doctor will be able to advise you.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Peter Rosenfeld  ›

Mr Rosenfeld is the regional speciality trainer in foot and ankle orthopaedics and sports medicine and has particular fields of research in ankle replacement and cartilage reconstruction.

Find your specialist in ankle sprains at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have an ankle sprain and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading orthopaedic specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Nadeem Mushtaq  ›
Special interests include:
Foot surgery (+ 20) more
Mr Tim Sinnett  ›
Special interests include:
Foot surgery (+ 12) more
Mr Peter Rosenfeld  ›
Special interests include:
Fractures (+ 10) more
Mr Lloyd (Robert) Williams  ›
Special interests include:
Foot surgery (+ 6) more
Mr Lee Parker  ›
Special interests include:
Ankle surgery (+ 2) more
Professor Roslyn Miller  ›
Special interests include:
Foot surgery (+ 9) more

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