The expected length of time for a sprained ankle to heal will depend on the severity of the injury. If it’s just the bone, you can expect a faster recovery time (of about 6 weeks) than if tendons, ligaments, or muscles are injured too. For example, if you needed surgery, you can expect at least 4 months of recovery time.
For minor strains, what severity or grade your ankle injury falls into affects your recovery time. Your doctor can evaluate the severity with an exam and imaging if needed to figure what ankle recovery time you can expect.
Levels of Severity
Medically speaking the term “sprained ankles” describes injuries to ankle joint ligaments. How extensive the damage to those ligaments is will determine whether it’s classified as mild, moderate, or severe. In turn, you’ll have a better sense of your expected recovery time.
With a Grade 1 sprain, your ligament has likely just been overly stretched, perhaps with a small tear. Your symptoms might include:
- Trouble keeping your balance, especially while walking.
Within 2 weeks, you can expect significant improvement from a Grade 1 ankle sprains. If you’re involved in sports, it might take up to 4 weeks to return to it. Four weeks is when full mobility tends to be regained for Grade 1 strains
Injuries to the ligaments are more serious with a Grade 2 sprained ankle. There will be a partial ligament tear, resulting in:
- Swelling and bruising.
- Moderate pain.
- Difficulty walking.
Grade 2 ankle sprains take about 6 to 8 weeks before you regain full mobility. Much of that has to do with scar tissue formation, which takes at least 6 weeks to properly form and support your ankle.
Ligaments can fully tear with a Grade 3 sprained ankle. Initially, you may have the following symptoms:
- Severe pain.
- Significant swelling and bruising throughout the foot and ankle.
- Almost impossible to walk without a crutch, cane, or immobility boot,
Unfortunately, 12 weeks is the minimum time of healing after a Grade 3 sprain. If surgery has been required to repair a ruptured ligament or tendon, you can expect 6 months of recovery before you are fully mobile and able to return to a sport.
How can you speed recovery up?
As you might have guessed, treatment for a sprained ankle will depend on its severity. You can expect to need at least some of these treatments:
- RICE: we highly recommend rest, icing, compression, and elevation for at least the first 3 days.
- Assessment: a physical therapist can assess your foot, ankle, and arch, potentially fitting you for a temporary boot.
- ROM: physical therapy stretches to increase range of motion can assist with stiffness while you heal.
- Build strength: Gradually, you’ll take on more resistance exercises to strengthen the ankle, foot, and calf.
- Post-healing aid: you may need ongoing assessments for a while to see how your ankle is holding up.
You may also need ongoing training to assist you especially if you are returning to a sport.
It goes without saying that your recovery time will be decreased if you get the treatment you need. From those first hours after you’ve sprained your ankle, to the sport-exercises that propel you back into the game, following the right treatment will ensure a quicker recovery.