Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that wrap around your ankle and other joints, lending support and stability. They have a little bit of give, but only a little. If stretched beyond their usual limits, they can become damaged or inflamed—or, in other words, sprained.
"The usual time for a sprain to heal is about 6 weeks, but that's only if it's treated properly," says John M. McShane, M.D. "People tend to ignore sprains, which can result in chronic problems."
Many sprains can be treated at home without medical attention, Dr. McShane adds. Here's what you need to do.
All sprains are painful, and it's difficult even for doctors to tell right away if the injuries involve torn tissue, fractured bone, or other serious problems.
If there's a lot of swelling or bruising, or if the pain seems unusually severe, it's a good idea to get to an emergency room for x-rays, says Michael Osborne, M.D.
Sprains should start feeling better within a few weeks, Dr. Osborne adds. Even if the initial discomfort is mild, see your doctor if there isn't noticeable improvement within 2 to 4 weeks.
John M. McShane, M.D., is a sports medicine orthopedic specialist in private practice in Villanova, Pennsylavnia. .
Michael Osborne, M.D., is an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, and an instructor at the Mayo Medical School in Jacksonville, Florida.