If you are wondering how long does a severe ankle sprain take to heal, we got you covered. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, with around 2 million occurring each year. An ankle sprain is defined as one or more of the ankle ligaments that connect the leg to the foot being stretched or torn. While typically associated with sports or other forms of physical activity, ankle sprains can be caused by any type of sudden, unnatural movement, forceful impacts, or even overuse.

What’s worse, they can range in severity, meaning they can be either short or long term injuries. Ankle sprains can range from mild ankle pain with some light bruising, pain and swelling, to incredibly painful even when at rest. For sprains on the lesser end of the spectrum, treatment and recovery can be quick and take only a few weeks to heal, but for more severe ankle injuries, the road to recovery can be significantly longer.

different types of ankle sprain

Which Types of Ankle Sprains are Considered Severe?

Ankle sprains are categorized as being either a grade 1, 2, or 3. A grade 1 ankle sprain (also referred to as a first degree ankle sprain) is characterized by a partial tear of the ankle ligaments, with only mild pain and swelling around the foot and ankle area. While still inconvenient and uncomfortable, grade 1 sprained ankles are not classified as severe. In fact, those suffering with grade 1 ankle sprains can still walk on them (though they probably should not).

Grade 2 sprains are when 50 percent or more of the ligament is torn, and causes more ankle pain, as well a limited range of motion. The torn ligaments also mean there is less blood flow to the area, meaning the time to recover is a bit longer than a grade 1, but not significantly so. Some grade 2 ankle sprains could be called severe, as they are on the verge of being a full on grade 3.

A grade 3 ankle sprain occurs when the ankle ligaments are fully torn and are undoubtedly classified as severe. Grade 3 ankle sprains leave the ankle unstable, stiff, and tender.

In fact, the symptoms of grade 3 ankle sprains can occasionally be misinterpreted to be a break or fracture. A key difference between a grade 3 ankle sprain, and a full break is that a break usually can be heard and also leaves the ankle visibly misshapen. These grade 3 ankle injuries are more long term and in some instances can even require physical therapy to fully heal.

understanding recovery time for ankle sprains

What is the Recovery Time for a Sprained Ankle?

For grade 1 ankle sprains, there are many factors that influence the time to heal, like how receptive the ankle injury is to treatment, but a generally accepted time frame is 3-5 weeks. Grade 2 ankle sprains have a recovery time of about 3-6 weeks, and require roughly the same treatment strategies as a grade 1. 

Grade 3 sprains, however, can take several months to heal due in large part to hampered blood flow to the area, with 3-6 months being the consensus timeframe. For severe ankle injuries, it is also worth noting that symptoms such as stiffness and reduced range of motion can still linger long after the actual injury has healed.

Knowing the different grades of ankle sprains will help you answer the question on how long does a severe ankle sprain take to heal.

recovering from ankle sprains

How to Treat Different Types of Ankle Sprains?

For all of the different types of ankle sprains, treatment is largely the same. Regardless of severity, all ankle sprains should be treated with R.I.C.E: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

  • Rest: Stay off of the afflicted ankle and allow time for the body to repair itself. This means no sports or other explosive movements and even the use of crutches in more severe cases.
  • Ice: Use ice packs to reduce swelling, and a towel to protect your skin from the ice. Applying ice should be done several times a day, in 15-20 minute increments.
  • Compression: Keep the sprained ankle wrapped in bandages or a brace. This provides support, as well as prevents any motions that may aggravate the injury.
  • Elevation: The injured ankle should be propped up when sitting or laying down so that blood may flow easier. A good rule of thumb is that the foot should be elevated to at least heart-level, preferably above.

In most non-severe cases, following the R.I.C.E. approach for 48 hours will yield significant healing, but if the ankle pain still persists, anti-inflammatory medication can also help relieve some of the pain and swelling caused by the sprain.

Physical therapy is another way to treat sprained ankles, though only after the swelling has gone down. In the case of grade 1 and some grade 2 sprains, light walking combined with stretching can help in the recovery process, though the same cannot be said for more severe sprains. 

For more serious ankle sprains, sometimes surgery or scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist could also be necessary. A skilled physical therapist can help restore full range of motion to a grade 3 sprained ankle.

when to see a doctor for severe ankle sprain

Need to See a Professional?

So how long does a severe ankle sprain take to heal?  Now that we have discussed the answers, if you’re dealing with a sprained ankle and don’t think it’s healing properly, you should consult a local medical professional. Sprains affect the ankle ligaments, meaning they won’t require an x-ray. Instead, clinicians perform a series of tests, so you’ll be able to determine the grade and start the road to recovery faster.