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When to Worry About a Sprained Ankle

Ankle sprains are incredibly common for people of all ages and activity levels. While sprained ankles are the #1 cause of missed participation in sports, you don’t have to be an athlete to sprain your ankle. Tripping, falling, losing your balance, and other household accidents also put you at risk.

When you roll, twist, or turn your ankle in an awkward way, the ligaments that support your ankle can easily stretch or tear. Sometimes, you’ll hear a popping sound. You may be tempted to “walk it off” or “play through the pain,” but that’s rarely the right decision. Waiting too long to seek treatment for a sprained ankle can have disastrous (and painful) results, from chronic ankle pain to eventual arthritis.

Here are some key ways to tell if you should seek care for a sprained ankle:

Your ankle is severely bruised and swollen

The amount of pain, swelling, and bruising you experience will depend on how much the injured ligament has stretched or torn. Most sprained ankles look as bad as they feel, with significant swelling and bruising that typically lasts 2-3 days. The swelling may spread across your ankle, foot, and lower leg, depending on the severity of your sprain.

You can’t walk comfortably

Some people can walk – often tenderly – on a sprained ankle, while others cannot walk at all. You may find it difficult to move your foot, and your ankle may feel wobbly when you try to stand on it. Walking on a sprained ankle can delay the healing process and increase your risk for complications—another great reason to seek prompt treatment.

It’s not uncommon to change the way you walk to compensate for ankle pain. However, doing so can cause issues with other joints, such as your hip or knee. An untreated ankle sprain also makes your ankle weaker and more unstable, potentially leading to repeat injuries, chronic ankle pain, and more.

Pain shoots up your leg

If pain shoots up your leg, you may have a high ankle sprain—an even more significant injury that can take twice as long to heal.

Why? Because high ankle sprains involve different ligaments than a typical ankle sprain. The ligaments above your ankle joint and between the tibia and fibula of your leg serve as shock absorbers that help keep the bones apart. A high ankle sprain occurs when your foot flexes upward and then twists, stretching or tearing these ligaments.

High ankle sprains are most common in athletes who play high-impact running sports, such as football, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse. High ankle sprains do not cause nearly as much swelling or bruising as standard ankle sprains, so people are often unaware of how severely they have injured themselves until the damage is done.

Should I go to urgent care for a sprained ankle?

Yes! Urgent care can diagnose and treat ankle sprains and provide you with the equipment (such as a splint, brace, or crutches) that you need to make a full recovery.

During your visit, a clinician will closely examine your ankle, foot, and lower leg to check for points of tenderness and range of motion. In most cases, ankle sprains can be diagnosed during a physical examination. If needed, all vybe centers have digital X-rays on site, allowing us to check for fractures and evaluate the extent of your injury. In some cases, patients may need advanced imaging such as an MRI to better help understand the significance of underlying injuries.

The recommended treatment for a sprained ankle will depend on the severity of your injury. Sometimes, over-the-counter pain relievers are enough to manage the pain of mild sprains. We may also suggest the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest – Rest your ankle as much as possible.
  • Ice – Apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes every few hours.
  • Compression – Compress your ankle with an elastic bandage until the swelling subsides.
  • Elevation – Elevate your ankle above your heart (especially at night) to help reduce swelling.

You may need to wear a splint or brace to stabilize your ankle and/or use crutches to help you walk. Severe sprains may require a cast or walking boot to immobilize your ankle as it heals. Mild ankle sprains can heal in as little as two weeks, while severe sprains can take 6-12 weeks or more.

Don’t second guess an ankle sprain – visit vybe today

vybe urgent care is here when the unexpected happens, including ankle sprains. All vybe centers have licensed medical professionals with a wide range of healthcare knowledge, and we’re open seven days a week to serve you. It’s easy to get help when you need it – just walk in or schedule an appointment at one of our 10+ locations across Greater Philadelphia.