Ankle Sprain - Ice or Heat?


“Should I use ice or heat on my sprained ankle?” - This is a common question often asked in physical therapy. My answer to this: It depends on whether you have sprained your ankle recently or not. In general, you use ice on a recent ankle injury and use heat if you have a chronic ankle sprain or your swelling has subsided.

Acute or Chronic Ankle Sprain


Two general classifications of ankle sprain are: acute and chronic ankle sprains.

You have an acute ankle sprain if you have injured your ankle recently. Often, your injury is sudden and you feel symptoms immediately, which may include
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pain increases when you try to bear weight on your injured ankle.

After some time, you may also have bruising if small blood vessels in your ankle are also damaged. The symptoms that you feel depend on the severity of your ankle sprain.

In chronic ankle sprain, you have had your injury for quite some time. Usually there is no swelling. However, you may have pain and, probably, stiff ankle (stiffness).

If you experience severe symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult your health care provider for proper evaluation and examination and treatment.

When to use ice and heat for my ankle injury


Ice application is often used for acute injuries including a recent ankle sprain. Applying ice immediately can help lessen your pain and swelling. This is often combined with other treatment protocols, such as rest, using compression bandage, and elevating your injured limb as you rest. This protocol is known as RICE therapy.

Your pain and swelling often start to subside after 2 to 3 days of RICE therapy.

Avoid heat application for an acute ankle sprain as this may make your symptoms worse. Apply heat only when you no longer have swelling in your ankle.

Heat application can help increase blood flow to your injured ankle that helps make healing faster. In addition, applying heat may also help decrease stiffness in your ankle.

Other things that you should do after a recent ankle sprain

Aside from RICE therapy, you may also need to use crutches or a cane to help minimize bearing weight on your injured limb. Your physical therapist can help you find the proper walking aid for you. He or she will also teach you on how to properly use the walking aid.

You may also need to avoid movements or activities that worsen your initial symptoms.

Once your pain and swelling have subsided, your ankle may still be a little bit weak and unstable. You may need to perform exercises to strengthen your ankle and prevent future injury. Your physical therapist can help provide you with an exercise program based on your specific needs and goals.

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