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3 Ankle Sprain Grades and How to Treat Them

You stepped off a curb and the ground was further away than you thought; you stumbled while chasing after your toddler or pet; or maybe you were playing your favorite sport and pivoted a little too fast. Now your ankle is sprained — so what do you do about it?

At Cortez Foot & Ankle Specialists, with locations in Bradenton, Sarasota, University Park, and Ellenton, Florida, our team of experienced podiatric specialists treats common ankle injuries including sprains.

Ankle sprain basics

Your ankle is held together and stabilized by ligaments that allow your foot to have range of motion and flexibility. When those ligaments are damaged, your ankle can become swollen, painful, and destabilized. 

Not all sprains are the same. Ankle sprains can range from tiny rips in your ligament tissue to complete tears, and they’re categorized according to their severity. Here are the differences between Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 sprains. 

Recognizing sprain grades

Not getting appropriate attention for an ankle sprain can lead to ongoing instability. Here’s how to tell if your sprain is Grade 1, 2, or 3.

Grade 1 ankle sprains

A Grade 1, or mild, ankle sprain means your ligament fibers have been slightly stretched. You’ll have some mild tenderness, but little if any pain, which can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain medications. 

Some faint bruising and swelling may come up around your ankle but should go down with proper rest, compression, elevation, and icing (RICE), and your ankle will remain stable.

Grade 2 ankle sprains

A Grade 2, or moderate, ankle sprain means that your ligament is partially torn. You’ll have moderate pain, bruising, and swelling that doesn’t go away quickly, and your ankle joint will feel loose when you move it in specific ways, causing slight instability.

RICE and NSAIDs can still help, but you may need a walking boot or air cast to give your ankle extra support while the partial tear to your ligament heals. 

Grade 3 ankle sprains

A Grade 3, or severe, ankle sprain means your ligament is torn completely, making the joint unstable and unable to bear your weight. You’ll have a lot of pain even when you're immobile, and you’ll see a lot of swelling and bruising. 

You’ll probably need a short lower leg brace or cast for several weeks, and possibly longer than that. You’ll also need crutches because your ankle will be too unstable to bear any of your weight for even a moment. 

If your ankle doesn’t show significant improvement within eight weeks, you may need surgery to repair your torn ligament. We carefully monitor your ankle sprain and order imaging tests if needed to track your healing progress.

Does your ankle feel unstable after a bad sprain? Contact our location nearest you by phone to schedule an appointment, or book online today.

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