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Sprained Ankle vs. Rolled Ankle: Understanding the Difference

Friday, 22 December 2023 16:58
Ankle Sprain - Achilles Foot Clinic

Sprained Ankle: The Ligament Damage

A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that connect bones to one another, are stretched or torn. This type of injury is typically the result of a sudden twist, turn, or roll of the ankle joint. It can happen during physical activities, such as sports, or even during everyday movements like walking on an uneven surface. The severity of a sprained ankle can vary, ranging from mild to severe.

Causes of a Sprained Ankle

  • Falls and Twists: A fall or sudden twist that forces the ankle joint beyond its normal range of motion can lead to ligament damage.
  • Uneven Surfaces: Walking or exercising on uneven surfaces increases the risk of a sprained ankle.
  • Sports Injuries: Ankle sprains are common in sports that involve jumping, cutting actions, or rapid changes in direction, such as basketball, tennis, football, soccer, and trail running.
  • Previous Injuries: Once you've sprained your ankle or had another type of ankle injury, you're more likely to sprain it again.
  • Improper Footwear: Wearing shoes that don't fit properly or aren't appropriate for the activity increases the vulnerability of the ankles to injury.
  • Poor Physical Condition: Weakness or lack of flexibility in the ankles can increase the risk of spraining them during physical activities.

Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle

Identifying the symptoms of a sprained ankle is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. While the severity of symptoms can vary depending on the degree of injury, here are some common signs to watch out for:

  1. Swelling: The affected ankle may swell immediately after the injury or within a few hours.
  2. Bruising: Bruises may develop around the ankle due to bleeding under the skin caused by the torn ligaments.
  3. Restricted Range of Motion: The ability to move the ankle freely may be impaired due to pain and swelling.
  4. Weight-Bearing Pain: Walking or putting weight on the injured ankle can be painful.
  5. Popping Sensation: Some individuals may experience a popping sound or sensation at the time of injury.
  6. Tenderness: Touching the ankle may elicit tenderness or discomfort.
  7. Instability: A sprained ankle may feel unstable and unable to support the body's weight.

Rolled Ankle: The Lateral Ankle Sprain

When it comes to a rolled ankle, the term is often used synonymously with a sprained ankle. However, a rolled ankle usually refers to a specific type of sprain that affects the lateral side of the ankle. The lateral ankle sprain is the most common type of ankle sprain, accounting for approximately 85% of all ankle sprains. It occurs when the foot twists inward, causing the outer ligaments to stretch or tear.

How a Rolled Ankle Differs from a Sprained Ankle

While both a sprained ankle and a rolled ankle involve ligament damage, the main difference lies in the specific ligaments affected. A sprained ankle encompasses any damage to the ligaments in the ankle joint, while a rolled ankle specifically refers to damage to the ligaments on the lateral side of the ankle.

Who is at Risk of Ankle Sprains?

Ankle sprains can happen to anyone, but certain factors increase the risk. Understanding these risk factors can help individuals take appropriate precautions to prevent ankle injuries.

Age and Gender

The likelihood of spraining an ankle can vary based on age and gender. Men between the ages of 15 and 24 have higher rates of ankle sprains compared to women in the same age group. However, women over the age of 30 have higher rates of ankle sprains than men. This may be attributed to hormonal changes and differences in physical activity levels.

Participation in Physical Activities

Engaging in sports or high levels of physical activity increases the likelihood of experiencing an ankle sprain. Approximately half of all ankle sprains occur during athletic activities. Sports that involve running, jumping, cutting actions, or rapid changes in direction pose a higher risk, including basketball, tennis, football, soccer, and trail running.

Preventing Ankle Injuries

Prevention plays a vital role in minimizing the risk of ankle sprains. By following these preventive measures, individuals can significantly reduce the likelihood of sustaining an ankle injury:

  • Proper Warm-up: Always warm up before engaging in physical activity to prepare your muscles and joints.
  • Mind Uneven Surfaces: Be cautious when walking or exercising on uneven surfaces, as they increase the risk of ankle sprains.
  • Wear Appropriate Footwear: Ensure you wear well-fitting shoes that provide adequate support for your feet and ankles.
  • Conditioning and Strength Training: Improve the strength and flexibility of your ankles through targeted exercises and conditioning programs.
  • Practice Balance Exercises: Enhancing your balance and proprioception can help prevent ankle injuries.
  • Utilize Ankle Supports: If you have a weak or previously injured ankle, consider using ankle supports or braces during physical activities.

Treating a Sprained Ankle


Prompt and appropriate treatment is crucial for a speedy recovery from a sprained ankle. The severity of the sprain will determine the most suitable treatment approach. Here are some common treatment options:

Grade 1 Sprained Ankle

A grade 1 sprained ankle refers to mild ligament damage without any tearing. The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method is the recommended approach for managing grade 1 sprains. It involves resting the ankle, applying ice packs, compressing the area with a bandage, and elevating the leg to reduce swelling. Over-the-counter pain medication can also help alleviate discomfort. Most grade 1 sprains heal within 2-4 weeks with proper care.

Grade 2 Sprained Ankle

A grade 2 sprained ankle involves partial tearing of the ligaments. The RICE method is still applicable, but immobilization may be necessary to facilitate healing. A supportive device, such as a boot or a splint, can help stabilize the ankle and protect it during the recovery period. Physical therapy exercises to improve range of motion and strengthen the ankle may also be prescribed. Grade 2 sprains typically take 6-8 weeks to heal.

Grade 3 Sprained Ankle

A grade 3 sprained ankle is the most severe, involving a complete tear of the ligaments. Treatment options for grade 3 sprains are similar to those for grade 2, including the RICE method and immobilization. However, surgery may be considered if the ligaments do not heal properly or if there is significant instability in the ankle. The recovery time for a grade 3 sprain depends on various factors and may require several months of rehabilitation.


Q: Can I walk with a sprained or rolled ankle?

A: It depends on the severity of the injury. In mild cases, you may be able to walk with minimal pain. However, it is advisable to seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Q: How long does it take for a sprained ankle to heal?

A: The healing time for a sprained ankle varies depending on the severity of the injury. Grade 1 sprains typically heal within 2-4 weeks, grade 2 sprains take about 6-8 weeks, and grade 3 sprains may take several months to fully recover.

Q: Do I need to see a doctor for a sprained or rolled ankle?

A: It is recommended to consult a healthcare professional, particularly for severe pain, inability to bear weight, significant swelling, or if the symptoms persist or worsen over time.

Q: Can ankle braces help prevent sprained ankles?

A: Ankle braces can provide additional support and stability to the ankle joint, reducing the risk of sprains. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if ankle braces are suitable for your specific needs.

Q: Are there any exercises to prevent ankle sprains?

A: Yes, certain exercises can help improve ankle strength and stability, reducing the likelihood of ankle sprains. Examples include heel-to-toe walks, single-leg balances, and calf raises. Consult with a physical therapist for personalized recommendations.


Understanding the difference between a sprained ankle and a rolled ankle is essential for proper diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. While both involve ligament damage, a rolled ankle typically refers to a lateral ankle sprain. By following preventive measures, seeking timely treatment, and practicing rehabilitation exercises, individuals can promote proper healing and reduce the risk of future ankle injuries. Remember, if you experience significant pain, swelling, or difficulty walking, consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and appropriate care.

If you are looking to treat Ankle Sprain in Calgary, reach out to Achilles Foot Clinic. We are here to serve with offers and expert tips on healthy healing. Contact us for guidance to get back on your feet and stay active!

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