How Do I Treat a Swollen Ankle?

A doctor should be consulted for a persistent or worsening swollen ankle.
Sprained ankles should be compressed with an elastic bandage.
Elevation is one of the best remedies for a sprained ankle.
X-rays can be used to determine if a patient has an ankle fracture or sprain.
Applying ice can help reduce ankle swelling.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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Long-term treatment for a swollen ankle has to depend on what is creating the inflammation. There are a number of reasons why ankles can swell. This can be a sign that an ankle sprain has occurred, or it may be symptomatic of a broken bone in the foot or ankle. It could also suggest ankle damage of other types, or the ankle may be swollen due to water retention or edema. There are some guidelines for initial treatment of a swollen ankle, and some suggestions on when to get expert treatment and diagnosis.

Sometimes an ankle is swollen and swelling may be dramatic. There may or may not be pain associated with the swelling. If pain is present, it may hurt most when weight is placed on the foot, or when the foot moves. Pain occurring even when the ankle is not having weight placed upon it, suggests things like fracture or serious sprain. Many times people have a good idea how they may have injured themselves, but occasionally, the ankle will swell for no obvious reason, and people will suddenly notice considerable puffiness in the ankle region.


The first step to treat a swollen ankle and determine what to do is to get off the foot. If possible, lie on a floor, couch, or other and place a pillow or two underneath the foot. Use ice on the swelling for 15 to 20 minutes, to see if that reduces the swelling, unless pain is so severe it is creating nausea or shock reaction, or there is clear evidence of a dislodged bone or bone appearing through skin. When these conditions are present people should immediately proceed to a doctor or emergency room.

When the cause is nebulous and severe pain or the conditions described above are not present, take a moment to inspect both feet. Look for a few things like evidence of insect or reptile bite, which may indicate allergic reaction or contact with a poisonous snake. With either of these conditions, symptoms could quickly progress, and people should get medical help immediately. Also, notice if both ankles are swollen which might suggest water retention.

After elevating the swollen ankle and icing it, determine if swelling is better, worse or the same. Unless both ankles are swollen, it is better at this point to get to a doctor, particularly if the ankle is painful. In fact having someone else contact a doctor while the ankle is being iced and the foot elevated is a good idea. In many cases, if an ankle injury is suspected, doctors want to look at it, and possibly use x-ray to determine if break or sprain is present. It’s not always possible to tell from the outside what type of injuries may have occurred.

With dual ankle swelling that suggests water retention, it’s also important to consult with a doctor. This may be signs of an emerging condition, it could suggests kidney problems, which in turn may be a sign of heart problems, or it might be symptomatic of other things. Provided the swelling seems to lessen with elevation and is not present elsewhere in the body, it may not necessarily mean getting emergency care, but people are still wise to at least phone a doctor, describe their symptoms and let the doctor determine the best course of treatment.

Sometimes when doctors are contacted, they tell people to wait a day to see if symptoms improve. While waiting, people may want to continue to use ice every three to four hours, remain off the swollen ankle and to try to keep it elevated. Compression or a stabilizing bandage may or may not be a good idea. Sometimes this can cause greater swelling or if the ankle swells more it may create too much pressure. If a stabilizing bandage is used, make sure to check it every few hours to be certain it is not compressing the skin in an uncomfortable way.


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