How to Keep a Sprained Ankle From Becoming a Chronic Instability

How to Keep a Sprained Ankle From Becoming a Chronic Instability

From sports accidents to high-heel mishaps, there are many ways you can wind up with a sprained ankle. While this seemingly minor injury may not come across as a big deal, it can spell big trouble for your ankle down the road. 

Once you’ve injured your ankle, the chances of reinjuring it increase by up to 70%. To make matters worse, just one sprained ankle can quickly turn into chronic ankle instability. 

At Annapolis Foot and Ankle Center, located in Annapolis, Stevensville, and Glen Burnie, Maryland, the team of podiatry experts and ankle and foot surgeons know how dangerous a sprained ankle can be. Here, we walk you through a few practical steps to keeping your ankles healthy for the long haul. 

Where chronic ankle instability comes from

An ankle sprain occurs when one or more ligaments are stretched beyond their usual capability. Ligaments are thick bands that connect your bones and keep them in the correct position to give you stability. Ankle sprains range in severity from a minor stretch to severe tears. In the worst cases, the ligament or ligaments completely ruptures.

Typically, a mild sprain causes moderate-to-severe pain and only temporarily weakens your joint. However, when your ligaments don’t heal properly, even a mild sprain can lead to chronic ankle instability.

Ankle instability is a problem because the weakened ligaments increase your risk of more sprained ankles. Eventually, chronic ankle instability damages the bones and cartilage in your ankle, leading to arthritis.

If you want to avoid arthritis, you must let your ankle heal fully after a sprain. Here’s straight-from-the-expert advice on recovering from an ankle sprain.

Start with the basics: RICE

Whether your sprain is minor or severe, it can benefit from the RICE protocol, which is designed to minimize swelling and help you begin the healing process. Take these steps as soon as possible following your injury.


Protect your ligament and let it start healing by taking a break from your activities until your doctor clears you. 


To minimize pain and swelling, apply an ice pack immediately. Keep the ice pack on for 10-20 minutes, at least three times per day, for the first 2-3 days following your ankle sprain.


Manage swelling by wrapping an elastic bandage around your ankle. A wrap can also provide stabilization while you heal.


Keep your injured ankle elevated while applying ice and any time you’re lying or sitting down. The goal is to keep your foot at or above heart level to reduce swelling.

Getting help from the pros

It may be tempting to try to “walk off” an ankle sprain, but even a mild case needs to be evaluated by a professional. Schedule an appointment with us right away, especially if the swelling lasts longer than a few days. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions about whether treatment is necessary.

Give it a rest

The worst thing you can do — and the quickest path to developing chronic instability — is to continue using your ankle before you’ve fully recovered.

Whether you’re an athlete or have a job that requires physical activity, staying off your ankle can be challenging. Still, our team recommends an initial immobilization period to ensure you fully recover and rebuild optimal ligament strength.

We recommend keeping weight off your ankle for at least 7-10 days in most cases. If your sprain is moderate or severe, you’ll likely receive a walking boot or cast to protect and immobilize your ankle as it heals.

Take your time

Restoring full ligament strength doesn’t happen overnight — it’s a gradual process. Putting stress on your ligament too soon is among the most common causes of ongoing instability. Typically, it takes at least six weeks for a ligament to heal.

Our experts advise you to start rehabilitation as soon as it’s safe. Typically, you begin with gentle exercises focused on improving your ankle’s range of motion. Once the swelling and pain go down, the focus shifts and advances to include activities that strengthen your ankle.

If you participate in regular or competitive sports, your rehabilitation program may include additional exercises specific to your activity. We may suggest that you wear a functional brace to stabilize your ankle and prevent it from retwisting as you resume normal activities. 

During rehabilitation, you also focus on rebuilding strength in your leg and foot muscles since they’re essential to adequately supporting your ankle.

Don’t neglect underlying foot problems

Most patients sprain their ankle by twisting it on uneven ground or while playing sports that require sudden stops and turns. However, untreated foot problems can also lead to sprained ankles. We assess your foot biomechanics and structure during your recovery and recommend treatment if needed to prevent future ankle sprains.

If you’ve sprained your ankle and would like to get started with treatment, don’t hesitate to request an appointment online or over the phone at any of our three conveniently located offices. 

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