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How long do ankle ligaments take to heal?

The human is able to move around and to do many things thanks to the limbs providing mobility access. Although it is true that having limbs enables a person to do activities that can improve their wellbeing, there is always the possibility of getting injury. There are many kinds of injuries affecting many different parts of the body which may give similar symptoms. One thing for sure, injuries do make a person wonder how long it takes to heal. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be focusing on one of the common injuries known as injuries to the ankle ligaments and how long it takes to heal.

          Before knowing how long it will take to heal injuries to the ankle ligaments, it would be better to understand a bit more about the ankle ligament itself and what kind of injuries that may affect it. Ankle ligaments bands of tissues connecting the foot bones with the lower leg bones. The ligament is made up of strong connective tissue such as collagen and elastic fibres but with limited blood supply when compared to other parts of the body movement connecting structure such as muscle and tendon. The ligaments itself has many functions apart from allowing humans to walk properly such as a shock absorber when walking, stabilising the ankle joint and preventing any movement that might cause injuries to the ankle.

          Injury to the ankle ligament is usually caused by the wrong kind of movement or from overstretching the ligament. At times, injuries may even cause tears in the ankle ligament. The common ways of a person injuring the ankle is when the foot rolls to the inside such as from tripping on slippery floor or mud. Other ways a person sprain their ankle is when the ankle is rolled outward or forceful blow to the ankle and extreme twisting motion. Spraining your ankle is a very common injury. Pretty sure you did actually have at least one episode of spraining your ankle in your lifetime. Apart from accidental tripping or falling, events such as a person stomping on the foot, walking or running on uneven surfaces such as mountain trekking and sports such as football and tennis can lead to a sprained ankle. Symptoms of ankle sprain vary according to the severity of the sprain itself. Common symptoms include bruising, pain on the ankle area, swelling of the ankle joint and difficulty to walk and stand on the injured ankle. In serious cases, the ankle joint can become weak and a person may lose feeling sensation or numb to the injured ankle side. Injury to the ankle ligament can be from overstretching or slightly torn of the ligament and partial to complete tear of the ankle ligament.

          There is no doubt that most ankle sprains may not need medical attention as simple home remedies might be enough to heal the injuries. Quick action of RICE protocol can quickly heal the sprains right after an ankle sprain is suspected. RICE is an acronym to help a person remember what to do immediately after an injury such as an ankle sprain:

  • Rest- not moving the ankle by avoiding walking.
  • Ice- cold compress or cold spray to reduce the pain and swelling. This should be repeated 2 to 3 times a day, each time with 20-30 minutes of cold compression.
  • Compression- use bandage or dressing to support the ankle and for immobilising purposes.
  • Elevate- raise the ankle above the chest level for the first 48 hours such as placing a pillow below the ankle.

       In most mild cases or cases where the symptoms improve right after injury or RICE protocol, they may not need to get medical advice but if it is the contrary, the person should be getting medical advice immediately. Since ligament problems may not be seen simply on X-ray imaging test, further tests such as MRI or CT scan may be needed if the sprain is severe or when the doctor is unsure why the sprain is not healed as it should. Treatments depend on the severity of the sprained ankle. In most cases, over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs help to reduce the pain and the swelling. Rehabilitation and physical therapy such as physiotherapy may be recommended especially after a surgery. Surgery is usually only recommended in severe cases.

       Well, how long does the ankle ligaments take time to heal? The answer depends on how severe the ligament is injured. In general, it could take weeks and up to months. For mild cases, it can take 1 to 3 weeks to heal. In other cases, it may take 4 weeks up to 3 months to properly heal especially after a surgery. The time of healing not only depends on the severity of the injuries and treatment received but also depends on the amount of physiotherapy that can be done.

       In essence, injury to the ankle ligament is extremely common and can happen to anyone of any age. The time it takes for an ankle ligament to heal varies. It is best to ask healthcare providers on how long it would take to really heal as this may vary according to the injuries severity and individual response towards treatments.

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