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How Long To Recover From a Sprained Ankle?

Athlete with ankle injury wondering how to quickly recover from a sprained ankle

 

You need to know how long to recover from a sprained ankle so you don’t injure yourself further, but there’s no easy answer. Recovery time for ankle sprains depends on how severe the sprain is, whether your body has all the materials it needs to heal itself, and a few other factors. 

The good news? Most sprained ankle recovery is fairly straightforward, and you shouldn’t need more than a few weeks of recovery time. Today, we’ll be taking a look at what causes an ankle sprain, what general healing times look like for different sprains, and how to quickly recover from a sprained ankle. 

Before we take a look at how long to recover from a sprained ankle, we need to know what a sprained ankle is. 

What is a sprained ankle?

Sprains and strains are some of the most common sports injuries, affecting an estimated 2 million people every year. The difference between a sprained ankle and a strained ankle is minor, and you’ll typically need a doctor’s diagnosis to verify whether your ankle is sprained or strained. 

In a sprained ankle, the ligaments have been damaged. Your ligaments are strong, stretch bands of tissue connecting bones to other bones. 

In a strained ankle, your tendons have been damaged. Tendons are tissue similar to ligaments, but they connect bones to muscles. Timelines for how long to recover from a sprained ankle vs a strained ankle are very similar, too.

Both ligaments and tendons are high in collagen, a protein that provides structural support throughout the body. Collagen production naturally decreases as we age, which can contribute to joint instability and put you at a higher risk of ankle sprains or strains. 

Sprained ankles typically occur when your ankle twists or rolls at an unusual angle. The risk for an ankle sprain is higher when you’re also putting weight or momentum behind your ankle, such as when running, climbing, or weightlifting. This is because these things turn a small difference in how your foot lands into a more intense twist, spraining your ankle.

Sprained ankles are typically graded on a scale of 1 to 3 depending on the severity of the damage to the ligaments. Determining how long to recover from a sprained ankle will depend on what grade of sprain you have, so let’s look at them more closely.

How do I know if my ankle sprain is grade 1 or 2? 

The symptoms and how long to recover from a sprained ankle can be very similar for grade 1 and grade 2 ankle sprains. In both cases, you’ll want to follow up with a healthcare professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan and to make sure there aren’t any other concerns.

In a grade 1 ankle sprain, your ligament was stretched farther than is comfortable, but there isn’t any tearing. You might notice some bruising or swelling, and tenderness or pain in your ankle. You should still be able to easily bear weight on your ankle and walk normally.

Grade 2 ankle sprains also show up with bruising, swelling, tenderness, and pain. With a grade 2 sprain, though, your ligament has been torn slightly. This means putting weight on your ankle might be intensely painful, and you might struggle to keep balance on an ankle with a grade 2 sprain. 

Your timeline for how long to recover from a sprained ankle that’s grade 2 will only be slightly longer than a grade 1 sprain.  

What does a grade 3 sprained ankle look like?

Unlike a grade 1 or 2, a grade 3 ankle sprain involves a complete tear of a ligament. In a grade 3 ankle sprain, you may even hear a popping sound when the injury occurs from the ligament snapping. 

Grade 3 sprains will have the most intense pain, swelling, and bruising, and bearing weight on your ankle will be extremely difficult. Estimating how long to recover from a sprained ankle that’s a grade 3 is also difficult since this level of sprain can occasionally require surgical intervention. 

How long does it take to recover from a sprained ankle? 

The more severe your sprain is, the longer your recovery time will be. Other factors – like age, rest time, and nutrition – can impact healing time, too. Generally, though, you can determine how long to recover from a sprained ankle based on the severity of the sprain and any instruction from your doctor. 

A grade 1 sprain will typically heal within 3 weeks, while a grade 2 sprain will heal within 6 weeks. A grade 3 sprain should heal within 8-12 weeks, but if it does not start to improve within that time, surgical intervention to repair the ligament may be needed.

Both too much rest and too much exertion can negatively impact sprained ankle recovery time. With too much rest, your ligaments will get stiff, increasing your risk of further injury. On the other hand, if you jump right back into intense exercise, you could damage the injured ligament further. 

Can you heal a sprained ankle in 2 days? 

No, you can’t fully heal a sprained ankle in 2 days. The initial swelling and pain should subside within the first 2 days after a sprain, but the ligament itself takes longer to repair itself. Planning for how long to recover from a sprained ankle can be difficult, especially when you have a race or competition coming up and need to rearrange your training schedule. 

Getting a sprain just before a competition can be especially frustrating, but it’s important not to push yourself too hard. The best practices for how to quickly recover from a sprained ankle include regular activity and stretching, but you can’t expect an injured joint to perform the same as an uninjured one.  

Focus on using tools like physical therapy, braces, or collagen for sprained ankles to help your ligaments heal at their own pace, rather than trying to make healing happen on a strict timeline. 

If you’re concerned about how long to recover from a sprained ankle and its impact on your fitness goals, work with your doctor and a coach to get back on track after you’ve healed, rather than trying to force your way through an injury.

When to see a doctor for a sprained ankle

If you suspect you have a mild, grade 1 ankle sprain, it’s generally ok to treat the sprain at home and follow up with your doctor later on. Remember that the timeframes given above for how long to recover from a sprained ankle are just guidelines, and your healing may be faster or slower. 

You should reach out to your doctor as soon as possible if your ankle does not bear weight; if the pain lasts for more than 2 days; or if you heard a popping, snapping, or cracking sound at the time of injury.

Any of these symptoms could point to an injury more severe than a sprain, so it’s important to get a diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Your doctor can also help you get the most accurate timeline for how long to recover from a sprained ankle based on your specific situation.

Even with mild sprains, you should see a doctor if you notice that you’re getting frequent mild sprains. This can point to structural issues in your ankle, and your doctor can help you put together a long-term treatment plan to strengthen your ankle joint.

How to quickly recover from a sprained ankle

Treatment can impact the timeline for how long to recover from a sprained ankle. How to quickly recover from a sprained ankle is all about giving your body what it needs to repair the damaged ligament. This includes “materials”, like the collagen your ligaments use for structural support. 

Adding the best collagen for joints into your daily routine can give your body the materials it needs to repair and strengthen the damaged tissue. This may mean a quicker recovery time and reduced risk of injury in the future. 

Your ligaments also need rest and exercise to recover, but not too much of either. Let’s look a little more closely at some of the things you can do when trying to reduce your timeframe for how long to recover from a sprained ankle.

RICE

RICE is an acronym that stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This is one of the most well-known treatment options, but may not have as great an impact as once thought. While how long to recover from a sprained ankle might not be impacted by RICE, your discomfort will, and that makes it worth trying. 

The RICE treatment is most helpful for a sprain in the first 24-48 hours after injury, but ice, compression, and elevation in smaller time blocks can help ease any soreness throughout the entire healing process. 

When planning for how long to recover from a sprained ankle, make sure to set aside 15-20 minutes after any exercise for icing or elevation. Both can help drain extra blood and fluid away from the site of the injury, easing swelling and reducing pain. 

Ice can cause further injury to your skin if it isn’t applied correctly, so make sure to wrap any ice pack in a thin towel or t-shirt and never apply directly to the skin. You should also never apply ice packs for longer than 20 minutes at a time, and give your skin at least 30 minutes to return to normal temperature before reapplying.

You should elevate your ankle above your heart, and can even keep it elevated overnight while you sleep for the first few days after your injury. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is one of the most common forms of sports injury treatment. Physical therapy is often done under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist, but you can do physical therapy exercises for sprained ankles at home, as well. 

Physical therapy exercises will help you stretch and strengthen the injured ligament. This can help set the pace for how long to recover from a sprained ankle, and it can also prevent re-injury. You can even add some of the physical therapy exercises into your usual warm-up or cool-down routines to keep your ankle ligaments strong and flexible.

Collagen for sprained ankles

Your ligaments are about 80% type 1 collagen by dry weight, so it’s no surprise liquid collagen benefits a sprained ankle. Taking collagen for sprained ankles can impact your expected timeline for how long to recover from a sprained ankle. 

And while many people might find collagen while looking for help with how to quickly recover from a sprained ankle, continued supplementation has even more benefits. 

Collagen for sprained ankles can help reduce injury and improve ankle function, especially if you get frequent sprains or deal with ankle instability. This means that supplementing with collagen to speed up your sprained ankle recovery can do long-term good, as well!

Athlete holding a packet of collagen for sprained ankle

Recovering quickly from a sprained ankle

Figuring out how long to recover from a sprained ankle is frustrating. No one plans for an injury, and they come at the most inconvenient times. Sprained ankles are common, and you should be able to get back to your usual activities within just a couple of weeks. 

During the time your ankle is healing, you don’t have to just sit around. The RICE method can help you manage pain and swelling for the first few hours after injury. Then, physical therapy can help get your ligaments limber and strong again. 

During and after your sprained ankle recovery, supplementing with a high-quality hydrolyzed collagen protein can give your body everything it needs to make sure your ligaments are operating at peak performance.