6 First Aid Steps to Take Immediately If You Have a Sprained Ankle

Updated: May 13, 2021

A sprained ankle is the most common ankle injury. Here's what to do to treat a sprained ankle to minimize pain and speed recovery.

A sprained ankle is the most common ankle injury, occurring when one or more of the ligaments has been stretched, twisted, or torn.  In a minor sprain, some of the fibers within the ligament are stretched—but in more serious sprains, the ligament may be torn. Most minor sprains can be treated at home, but anything worse needs prompt medical attention and may even require surgery. If in doubt, you should get yourself (or the injured person) to the hospital for an X-ray. Here’s how to treat eight common pains at home, including a sprained ankle.

What to Look For:

  • With a severe injury, you may not be able to bear weight on the leg.
  • Pain in and around the joint. You may feel faint with the pain.
  • Swelling, and later bruising, around the joint

Use RICE to remember treatment steps: R = Rest. I = Ice. C = Compression. E = Elevation.

(Sprain vs. strain: here’s the difference and how to treat both.)


Rest the leg

You should immediately stop the activity that caused the injury, sit down, and rest the ankle. Make sure to support it in a raised position. Learn about the hidden muscles in your body that are causing you pain.


Cool with ice

Cool the ankle with an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. Ideally, wrap a bag of ice or frozen peas in a cloth and place it on the ankle. Do not put ice straight onto the skin, as it will cause a cold burn. Leave the ice in place for about 20 minutes.

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Apply pressure

Leave the compress in place if it is small or wrap a layer of soft padding, such as a roll of cotton wool, around the ankle. Apply pressure with a compression support or compression bandage to help limit swelling. This should extend from the toes to the knee.


Elevate the ankle

Raise and support the ankle so that it is higher than the hip to prevent swelling—and make sure to rest! If the injury seems serious, get to the hospital. Here are 50 secrets hospitals don’t want you to know.

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Check circulation

Make sure that the bandage is not too tight. Press on a toenail until it turns white, then let go. The color should return quickly. If it doesn’t return, the bandage is too tight; remove it and reapply. Recheck every 10 minutes. Check your feet for other signs of potential health problems too!


Reapply the cold compress over the bandage every 2-3 hours

Remove the bandage at night and do not sleep with an ice pack on the injury.

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