Ankle sprain

This information is useful for those who have been diagnosed with an ankle sprain. People who are experiencing new or ongoing symptoms should contact a healthcare professional for assessment and diagnosis.  

Read more about self-managing ankle problems

What is an ankle sprain? 

The ankle has ligaments on the outside which stop excessive movement. An ankle sprain is when these ligaments become overstretched and tear. A ligament injury can also be referred to as a soft tissue injury.

The severity of the damage could range from a small tear to a full rupture and the severity will determine the time it takes to make a full recovery. 

What are the symptoms of an ankle sprain? 

These vary from person to person and some symptoms may appear several days after the initial injury.

People may experience: 

  • swelling and bruising
  • pain
  • mild heat and redness.
  • loss of movement and strength around the ankle and foot
  • difficulty walking or going up or down stairs
  • tingling, numbness or pins and needles in the affected area

What are the causes of a sprained ankle? 

The injury is usually caused when over-stretching the ligaments on the outside part of the ankle. This is sometimes called going over or rolling over your ankle. It could also result from a direct blow during sporting activity or a fall. 

How to manage your ankle after a sprain

 The first thing to do after an ankle sprain is manage the pain and swelling.

Read more about taking painkillers

Reducing the swelling after an ankle sprain helps reduce the pain and increase the range of movement.

Read more about soft tissue injury advice

As soon as possible gradually start to move the ankle through your normal range of movement. This may be uncomfortable but it’s important to start as soon as possible to help your recovery.

Stop if this becomes too painful for you and get in touch with your healthcare professional.

Rehabilitation of an ankle sprain 

The aim of rehabilitation is to improve your:

  • muscle strength
  • joint stability
  • balance and co-ordination

If you’re diagnosed with an ankle sprain, your healthcare professional will discuss specific rehabilitation goals with you. However, the general timescales involved are:

  • 0-2 weeks. An improvement in movement and swelling. Standing and walking should become easier.
  • 2-4 weeks. Walking now back to normal. Movement almost 100% and swelling reducing.
  • 8-12 weeks. Your ability to do your day-to-day activities are beginning to return to normal.

Every soft tissue injury can be different; your injury may take slightly longer or shorter than these timescales. The most important thing is that it’s improving.

Recovery is not always straight forward, it can be normal to have setbacks during this time. It’s important to pace your activities to help with your recovery.

Read about exercises for an ankle sprain


An ankle sprain can sometimes mean you need to take some time off work to help recovery. How long you’re off will depend on the nature of your condition and your role at work.

You do not need to be symptom free before you consider returning to work. Continuing to go to work, or returning to work as soon as is possible for you, will help your recovery. Gradually getting back to your normal daily activities can help to build up your strength and stamina levels.

Help and support

Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time. 

If your symptoms haven’t improved within 8-12 weeks, or it’s got worse, after following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms. 

Find out how to access MSK services in your area

When dealing with any health condition it’s important to also look after your mental wellbeing as this can impact your recovery.

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Source: MSK Expert Panel - Opens in new browser window

Last updated:
20 November 2023