What are Ankle Sprains?

What are Ankle Sprains?

Ankle sprain

Ankle sprains are common musculoskeletal injuries that occur in people of all ages and activity levels. When you twist, roll, or turn your ankle too far in any direction, you can tear or stretch the ligaments, causing a sprain.

Types of Sprained Ankles


The severity of an ankle sprain varies depending on which ligaments are affected and how they were damaged. The majority of ankle sprains involve injury to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle—this is called a lateral ankle sprain. Medial ankle sprains—damage to the ligaments on the inside of the ankle—are less common. The severity of a sprained ankle is graded from 1 to 3.

  • Grade 1 ankle sprains occur from minimal stretching of the ligaments and cause minor pain and swelling, but usually no major bruising or joint instability. Typically, grade 1 ankle sprains heal within 1-3 weeks. With a grade 1 ankle sprain, you can walk without too much difficulty.
  • Grade 2 ankle sprains result from partial tearing of the ligaments and cause moderate pain, swelling, and tenderness. Tearing can range from very tiny to almost completely through the ligament. These sprains usually cause bruising and swelling because the tearing into the ligament bleeds into the surrounding tissues, which may cause you to lose some range of motion in the ankle. Walking or bearing weight can become painful. You may see a bruising pattern that forms a horseshoe shape around the heel or experience puffiness, soreness, and bruising on the top of the foot. Bruising often makes the injury look worse than it actually is.
  • Grade 3 ankle sprains occur when the ligament tears completely. This tearing causes pain, swelling, and bruising, and makes it difficult to bear any weight. You’ll also notice instability because the ligament is no longer holding the portion of the ankle joint together. Grade 3 ankle sprains can take up to several months to heal and are the most severe type of ankle sprain.

Signs & Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle


Sprained ankle symptoms vary widely depending on the severity of the injury, but usually include one or more of the following:

  • Pain, especially with weight-bearing or walking
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Instability
  • Restricted range of motion

Sprained Ankle Causes


A sprained ankle occurs when the ankle's ligaments are forced outside of their usual range of motion, which can sometimes result in a popping sound or sensation. Ankle sprains can occur unexpectedly, but common causes include:

  • Walking, dancing, or exercising on an uneven surface
  • A fall that causes you to twist or bend your ankle
  • Tripping
  • Contact with another person during a sport such as basketball, soccer, football, or rugby

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

While a sprained ankle can happen to anyone, certain conditions and behaviors can increase your risk of suffering this injury:

  • Participating in sports - Especially those that require jumping or running, such as basketball, tennis, and soccer
  • Muscle weakness or fatigue - Attempting athletic activity without prior conditioning or pushing through signs of muscle fatigue instead of resting
  • Wearing the wrong shoes - Shoes that are inappropriate for physical activities like running, and high-heeled shoes in general, put you at a higher risk for ankle sprains



You can help prevent ankle sprains by taking several precautions:

  • Wear appropriate, well-fitting shoes for each activity
  • Warm up before playing sports or exercising and ensure you are properly conditioned for the activity
  • Be careful when running, walking, or hiking on uneven surfaces—or avoid doing so if possible
  • Use support tape or an ankle brace on a recovering or previously injured ankle
  • Stretch and do ankle strengthening exercises to help improve stability and tissue elasticity
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Ankle Sprain Care

The experts at NewYork-Presbyterian's Columbia Orthopedics can provide comprehensive care from diagnosis through recovery for your sprained ankle. Our foot and ankle specialists will take an individualized approach to your ankle sprain and ensure you receive the best possible outcome.