Get Well Soon: How to Heal a Sprained Ankle

Get off the crutches and back on your feet with this step-by-step guide

Blasted pothole! Stupid patch of dirt! Yep, you’ve rolled your ankle, and now it's beginning to swell, turn blue and purple and hurt when you put your weight on it. What now?

First, don’t panic: sprained ankles are very common, accounting for 15 to 30 percent of sports injuries. Second refer to the acronym P-R-I-C-E—Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Ice for 15- to 20-minute intervals, four to five times a day. If by day five, the pain hasn’t subsided and you're having trouble putting weight on your foot, see a professional.

Usually, though, basic exercises will do the trick; and remember, don’t baby a sprain too long. As soon as you can stand to, dig into the following four phases of recovery, recommended by Tony Rocklin, director of physical therapy at Therapeutic Associates in Portland, Oregon.

Phase One: Do a few ankle circles; draw the alphabet with your big toe in the air; and be sure to straighten the leg fully. Then try putting a little weight on it. It's OK to use a brace early on.

Phase Two: In a doorway, try standing on the injured ankle for 60 seconds. Be sure to take a few minutes between attempts, as it typically won’t come easy. Once you’ve mastered this, do it with eyes closed.

“Our eyes are a dominant source of balance for most people, … a term called proprioception," Rocklin said. "That’s our sense of where our body’s at in space, and that’s important for our ankles. We lose that after an ankle sprain."

For the last step, try it on a foam pad or pillow to encourage stability on less stable surfaces. Also, begin resistance exercises with a resistance band.

Phase Three: Do sport-specific, functional, weight-bearing exercises. Use a brace to help immobilize the ankle, slowly weaning off it.

Phase Four: Get back on the field, but slowly.

“For the lay person, depending on severity, you want four to twelve weeks to really feel like you’re back to normal,” Rocklin said.