Methods to Reduce Swelling from an Ankle Sprain

baseball player ankle injury

One of the most important functions that a physical therapist can serve following an ankle sprain is creating a plan to reduce swelling in the injured area. The definition of ankle sprain is a common musculoskeletal injury in which the ligaments of the ankle are partially or completely torn due sudden stretching.

Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries that can occur while playing any sport. A trained physical therapist can be the difference between returning to the sport in a few days or a few weeks.

Here we will explore the specific ways that a trained therapist can help bring an injured athlete back from an ankle sprain in a safe and timely manner.

Determining The Injury

One of the very first things that any well-trained physical therapist needs to know before they create a treatment plan is the degree of injury to the ankle. There are three different grades of an ankle sprain, with two different methods to reduce swelling open for consideration. The less damaging injuries, grades one and two, results in moderate tears and can be treated successfully and quickly by a physical therapist.


The grade three sprain results in severe damage to a ligament and must be referred to an orthopedist or podiatrist before physical therapy.

         RICE Treatment

Most of the treatment models to reduce swelling from an ankle sprain is the RICE treatment. These methods can be more successfully implemented by a physical therapist than it could be by the athlete. The first step is to rest the injured ankle, which requires the athlete to be removed from the game or practice in which they were injured. This will reduce swelling by preventing the injured area from having to bear the body’s weight. Many physical therapists will insist upon the use of a cane during this period.


The second part of the RICE treatment stands for ice. Physical therapists  apply ice packs or cryocuffs to decrease blood flow and constrict blood vessels, thus reduce swelling. This will typically be done in periods of fifteen or twenty minutes over the course of the day. Another way that physical therapists use cold to treat the injury is by having the athlete place their injured leg in an ice bath, which provides complete immersion and coverage of the leg.

ankle therabandsThe third part of the treatment to help reduce swelling is to compress the injury. This reduces the amount of blood flow and provides support. The compression will come in the form of ace bandages or wraps that should be applied by a trained physical therapist to ensure proper compression and support.
The final part of the treatment plan that will be outlined by a physical therapist to reduce swelling is to elevate the injured area. The patient will be instructed to keep the leg comfortably raised above the level of the heart while supine. This prevents the pooling of blood around the injured region. Some recommendations while elevating is to perform ankle pumps to contract the calf muscle and stimulate blood flow away from the ankle. Elevation should be performed 3-4 times per day for approximately 30-45 minutes.

Physical Therapy

PROM ankleModalities used to accelerate the reduction of bruising, hematoma and swelling after an ankle sprain consist of electrical stimulation and cold laser light therapy. It is very important especially with a grade 3 sprain to perform light stretching and range of motion exercises.

To completely recover from an ankle sprain it is always best to follow the advice of the orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist. Make sure you attend physical therapy on a consistent basis so that you can get back to normal activity with confidence.