For Ankle Sprains, It's Cold Comfort

This question came up again recently, and it's been a frequent one over the years.  Should treatment for a sprained ankle include cold or warm applications? A sprained ankle is considered an acute injury, and can include both pain and swelling.  Once it's been determined that the injury is actually a sprain and not something more severe, cold therapy with ice to the site is the treatment of choice, even if initial application is delayed by as much as 24 hours.

Here’s how it works. The cold acts as a vasoconstrictor (a fancy phrase that means it tightens blood vessels) and thereby reduces the swelling in the ankle; in theory, it should also decrease some of the pain.

Ice to the affected area should be used for up to three days. Heat is usually applied for chronic injuries (they go on for a longer period) that have no inflammation or swelling. Another aid to faster healing is to keep the affected foot elevated and stay off of it as much as possible, as this helps to promote healing.

Bottom line:  Staying cool is the rule of thumb when dealing with minor ankle sprains.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2011. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.