How are Sprained Ankles Diagnosed?


If you think you might have a sprained ankle, schedule a visit with your doctor. They will examine your ankle, foot, and lower leg, touching the area around the injury to check for pain or tenderness. Your doctor will also test your range of motion to determine the ankle joint's stability and if movement causes discomfort.

For a severe injury, your doctor may conduct one or more imaging scans to rule out a broken bone and determine the extent of ligament damage:

  • X-ray: During an X-ray, radiation passes through the body to capture an image of the ankle bone. This helps determine if your injury is a sprain or a fracture.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Your doctor may order an MRI to evaluate the damage to the ligaments and tendons of the ankle. An MRI isn't necessary to diagnose a sprain, but it can provide more detailed information about your injury.

How are Sprained Ankles Treated?


Ankle sprains vary widely in severity. Depending on your injury, different treatment methods may be required for a full recovery. Most mild sprained ankles can be treated at home, while more severe sprain cases may require more advanced therapies or surgical approaches.

Self-care approaches

Your doctor will likely suggest the RICE approach for treating your sprain at home:

  • Rest: Stay off the ankle and avoid activity that causes pain or discomfort
  • Ice: Apply ice to the injury to help with swelling and redness
  • Compression: Using an elastic bandage, wrap the injured ankle to help with swelling
  • Elevation: Keep the ankle above your heart whenever possible (especially at night) to reduce swelling by draining excess fluid

Therapy and rehabilitation

Your doctor may suggest exercises to help restore function to your sprained ankle. These movements will help you regain mobility, balance, and stability and can help strengthen the ankle so the injury does not reoccur. Your doctor may also suggest special exercises to complete before returning to a sport or vigorous activity.


Severe ankle sprains can cause lasting instability or discomfort in rare cases. Your physician may determine surgery is necessary to repair a ligament that will not heal or is healing incorrectly. Surgery can also be used to reconstruct a damaged ligament using tissue from a nearby healthy ligament.


Frequently Asked Questions

The recovery time for an ankle sprain varies depending on the severity of the injury. Sprains can take anywhere from one week to several months to fully heal.

You should wrap a sprained ankle with an elastic bandage, starting the wrapping at the point furthest from your heart. Do not wrap the ankle so tightly that you cut off circulation.

If you're worried you have sprained your ankle, stop physical activity immediately and apply ice. If discomfort, instability, or swelling persists, contact your doctor.

An ankle sprain involves damage to the ligaments around the ankle from either overstretching or tearing. Strains are caused by an injury to muscles or tendons.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Ankle Sprain Treatment

The orthopedic experts at NewYork-Presbyterian have a deep understanding of the various causes and symptoms of ankle sprains. Our team works with you to develop an effective treatment plan for your unique case. If you're struggling with an ankle injury, make an appointment to begin your recovery journey today.