3 steps to self-treat acute ankle sprain – from a physical therapist - Be My Healer
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3 steps to self-treat acute ankle sprain

3 steps to self treat acute ankle sprain

I sprained my ankle P-R-E-T-T-Y BAD while traveling Paris two years ago. It was a wonderful and miserable trip.

The story was, I was trying to find the bathroom on a fancy river cruise on the Seine. (I didn’t want to blow my nose in a fancy dining hall). As I was running down some stairs, I saw someone rushing down stairs towards me on the opposite side. I hesitated and tripped, and broke my ankle. As I was crying over my ankle on the bottom of the stairs, I found myself staring at a huge mirror (and that someone crying over her ankle too).

Later, my colleagues pointed out that I didn't follow my own advice and treat my ankle properly on spot.

Lesson Learned: Ask the fancy cruise restaurant for a bag of ice, and secretly put your feet up under the table cloth. (Which I didn’t do)

It is estimated 23,000 ankle injury occur every year in the States. In many sport, ankle injury is the most common injury.

So, maybe you will run into situation like mine. Or you already have a freshly injured ankle, googling for “how-tos”

Following are step by step recommendation by a physical therapist on


Unload and Ice your injured foot

Ice to ankle sprain

If you are at a convenient location, sit down, put your feet up and ask someone for a bag of ice, frozen veggies or chilled soda. Press the icing agent to the front and outside your injured ankle. Stay there for 5 mins.

If you are in the middle of nowhere, and have to walk a distance to get proper care, you can use clothing on you to wrap up your ankle to provide some stabilization. Walk steady and slow, unload and rest as needed.

MICE – Massage, Icing, compression, and elevation

For the next three days, put your feet up (ideally above heart level) as often as you can.

Apply Ice 3-8 times per day for about 10 mins each time.

Use proper soft ankle brace for walking. Use crutches as needed based on how your ankle tolerates putting body weight through it. You can also use Ace Bandage to wrap ankle up to provide compression and support. Be careful not to over stretch the bandage, for your foot needs the flood flow.

Ace bandage for ankle sprain

Image source: Dr. Chris Chiodo

My favorite part is the massage! You can have someone to help you, or you can totally help yourself with a gentle massage to relieve the edema. 

Massage for ankle sprain...
  • Use oil or lotion for lubrication and comfort.
  • First, use big and general stroke to push swelling from your foot up to your knee 10-20 times.
  • Then gently rub the top and bottom of your foot to relax muscles and increase local blood circulation.
  • Last but not least, make sure you put some good work on relaxing your calf muscle and Achilles area.
  • Repeat 1-2 times per day.

I always find gentle massages are the best way to recover from ankle sprain fast. Behold the power of healing touch!

Weight Bear, Stretch and Exercise

After the initial three days(or longer for more severe sprain), your body is coming out of the panic mood, and starts a new mode called “We are definitely still a wreck, but let’s see what we can do here” mode.

return to weight bearing

The swelling is more under control. The ankle is less sensitive to weightbear. Though you still have plenty of symptoms, they are no longer screaming at you for justice.

At this time, your best bet is to gently try more weight through the injured foot as tolerated. You should also start stretch and exercise your calf muscle.

VERY IMPORTANT TIP: Use your hand to help your heel wiggle in the directions it lacks. How do you know what it lacks? Feel the movement in your other foot.

The big picture is: start using your injured foot in MODERATION.

How long does it take to feel normal again?

It depends on how severe your injury and how well you follow the rehab steps. Mine finally started to feel normal again after 3 and half month. During that time, my right foot required special treatment such as frequent taping, new footwear and lots of foot spa and massage.

There is a small chance that your sprain is so severe that it may need surgical repair. For some severe cases, you may need professional help like physical therapy. Thus, use your best judgement and seek care if it’s not recovery at all.

Majority of people re-injure their ankle within one year of the initial sprain. In order to prevent this from happening and limit your risk of chronic disability and pain in ankle, knee and lower back from prolonged limping, I recommend you do not ignore the care your injury requires to recover. In near future, I will write more about ankle exercises that are easy to perform at home for ankle recovery.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful. 

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