How do I Treat an Ankle Ligament Injury?

A. Pasbjerg

There are several steps you can take to successfully treat an ankle ligament injury. The first course of action that doctors typically recommend immediately after injury is to follow the RICE system of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It is then important to begin exercising the ankle to aid in healing and get back strength and flexibility. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery if the injury is severe enough or has not healed properly.

A person with an ankle ligament injury.
A person with an ankle ligament injury.

For most types of ankle ligament injury, the RICE system is the most effective initial treatment to use. You will want to avoid putting weight on the damaged ankle, so it is important to rest and avoid walking. Applying ice several times a day can help reduce swelling and pain, and may be achieved by using ice packs or special boots or cuffs designed to fit on the foot. These devices may also help to keep compression on the ankle, or a compression bandage and splint can be used; this helps to provide stability and limits the range of motion to avoid further damage to the ligament. You should also keep your foot elevated for several days immediately after the ankle is injured.

Applying ice to an ankle ligament injury helps reduce swelling.
Applying ice to an ankle ligament injury helps reduce swelling.

Within a few days after an ankle ligament injury, your doctor will probably recommend that you begin exercising the ankle again carefully. You will likely continue to wear a special brace during this time to help provide additional stability. The first exercises will usually be focused simply on moving the ankle to help minimize stiffness and encourage proper healing, and should only be done in the range of motion that does not cause pain. Later, you will probably be given a variety of movements aimed at strengthening the muscles that support the ankle and stretching the ligaments to maintain flexibility. This type of physical therapy encourages healing and can also help avoid deformation of the ligament as it heals.

Surgery may be necessary for an ankle ligament injury in certain situations. Patients with grade III injuries, where the ligament is completely torn or ruptured, may need surgery to repair the damage. If you only have a stretched or partially torn ligament, but it does not heal properly using the techniques listed above, you may develop instability in your ankle and be prone to re-injury. In cases like these, your doctor may also recommend surgery to reconstruct the ligament.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat an ankle ligament injury.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat an ankle ligament injury.

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Discussion Comments


Thank you for the article, very informative. Having been through multiple ankle sprains and torn ligaments I agree that the RICE method is always the best remedy to start with.

One thing to be cautious of as a patient of ankle injury is a physician working with only an x-ray and diagnosing an injury as a relatively simple sprain. If you feel you have an injury that is more than a sprain, it's always best to see a specialist that will investigate further with MRI/CT scans for possible ligament and/or tendon damage that won't typically show up within an x-ray.

In my experience, undiagnosed ligament damage will end up causing more pain and improper healing, resulting in necessary surgery.

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