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Ankle Sprains

This page has been designed to provide you with the right information about ankle sprains and how to manage them from a physiotherapy point of view.

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is an injury that can happen when your ankle is forced into a position that puts stress and strain through the ligaments (as well as other structures), to the point that they are upset.

How would you sprain an ankle?

The most common way to sprain an ankle is by ‘turning or rolling’ your ankle. This normally happens whilst walking or running, as your foot goes underneath yourself and your body weight pushes down on the ankle/foot, causing the injury.

What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain?

This is a really important question and it is useful for you to know what is normal after spraining your ankle as it can sometimes be a worrying time. We’ve broken the answer down into things that are found most common:

Are there different types of ankle sprains?

Yes, there are.

Ankle sprains can be graded dependent on their severity and the symptoms you may get.

Grade 1: Mild - Little swelling and tenderness with minimal impact on function. Minimal, if any, bruising.

Grade 2: Moderate – Moderate swelling, pain and some difficulties with normal function (like walking). Bruising may be present and may extend down to the toes.

Grade 3: Severe – Complete rupture, large swelling, lots of tenderness and very limited function. Bruising very likely.

You mentioned ligaments - what are they?

This is a good question and it’s important to know.

A ligament is a structure that you find around joints that gives joint support and helps with stability. They are naturally quite flexible to allow normal movement of the joint. They can get upset if they are stretched too far and this is what often happens with an ankle sprain.


Does it matter which type of sprain I’ve got?

No, not really. Most ankle sprains will be either a grade 1 or 2, but regardless of that, most people will find the advice and exercises laid out on this page are helpful for recovery.

What should I do to help my ankle?

If you have recently upset your ankle, try not to worry.

Follow the new way of managing acute (early) muscle and joint injuries using the POLICE principle.

Could my ankle be broken?

Your ankle is strong and robust and is not easily damaged. After ‘rolling’ or ‘turning’ your ankle, the most likely thing to happen is that you will sprain the ligaments and therefore it will be a simple ankle sprain. However, it is obviously possible to break your ankle if the force is strong enough or if you have a pre-existing medical issue, like osteoporosis.

If your ankle is significantly swollen, very painful and you simply cannot take any meaningful weight through your foot since the injury and it is not getting better, you may want to discuss this with either your GP, your physio or seek help via A&E.


Can ankle sprains be managed without surgery?

Yes, indeed. Most ankle sprains recover very well with time and some gentle exercises and rarely require surgery. 


I’ve been to hospital to get checked and they said “soft tissue injury”, is that the same?

In essence, it is the same thing. The term ‘soft tissue’ is a general term for muscles, ligaments and tendons. An ankle sprain is a soft tissue injury.

I’ve been given crutches and an ankle brace. What do I do with them?

If you have had to seek some help from A&E following your ankle sprain, you may have been given some crutches and an ankle brace to help you for the first few days.


If you need some help with how to use your crutches, please visit our Walking Aids page here: Walking Aids

It is important to take as much weight through your foot as possible, as early as possible, as it will help your recovery. It might be sore but it is the right thing to do.


The ankle brace you may have been given is not something that is given out routinely. Your ankle might feel a little better in the brace, however, normal movement is key to helping your ankle calm down, which the brace doesn’t allow for. If you do want to use the brace, use it sparingly and stop using it as soon as you feel you can.

Ok, what can I do to help my ankle get better?


Is there anything else I can do?


Is there anything I should look out for?

As mentioned before, most ankle sprains will get better with time and sometimes some gentle exercises. If your ankle is showing no signs of progress, is still considerably swollen, is still really painful and most importantly, you simply cannot put any weight on it, then you should discuss this with your physio or GP or seek help from A&E, as they may need to exclude a fracture/break.


What exercises should I be doing to start with?

In the earliest stages of your recovery i.e. within the first two weeks, it is recommended that you simply try to gently move the ankle as well as you can and as far as is comfortable. We have provided a selection of suitable exercises below.


Can I do any other type of exercise to help my ankle?

Yes, you can do anything that you like. You may find certain types of exercises easier than others after an ankle sprain, but there are no limitations in what you can do. Often, people find exercises like swimming or cycling easiest to start with.

Frequently asked questions


A: This will be dictated by your ankle and your sport. Most people will find their ankle feels better after a few weeks. By working on the movement, strength and balance exercises, as well as being patient, you may find that going back to most sports by about 6-8 weeks will be successful (this can be very variable).

A: It is not unusual to find that your ankle feels strange after a sprain. It is normal to feel tight, stiff or even a bit loose after a sprain, but these things often ease with time and some gentle exercises.

A: Swelling can sometimes be the last thing to ease after injuries. It can sometimes hang around for weeks into months after the injury, however, if you are feeling better, moving better and doing more, it is not something you should be worried about.

A: If you have been loaned the crutches from the James Paget University Hospital, you should call the following numbers to arrange for collection:

For patients in Suffolk please call 01502 470360

For patients in Norfolk please call 0300 1000716

If you have been loaned the crutches from East Coast Community Healthcare, you can return these to the physiotherapy clinic. To find out which clinics can accept returns, please call 01493 809977.


Download our blank gym programme here.

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