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Ankle Sprain in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain happens when 1 or more ligaments in your child's ankle joint stretch or tear. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect bones. Ligaments support your child's joints and keep the bones in place.

What are the signs and symptoms of an ankle sprain?

  • Trouble moving the ankle or foot
  • Pain when your child touches or puts weight on the ankle
  • Bruised, swollen, or misshapen ankle

How is an ankle sprain diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about the injury and examine your child. Tell him or her if you heard a snap or pop when your child was injured. Your child's healthcare provider will check the movement and strength of the joint. Your child may be asked to move the joint. Tell a healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Your child may need any of the following:

  • An x-ray takes pictures of the bones and tissues in your child's joints. Your child may be given contrast liquid as a shot into his or her joint before the x-ray. This contrast liquid will help your child's joint show up better on the x-ray.
  • An MRI may show the sprain. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if your child has any metal on his or her body.

How is an ankle sprain treated?

  • Support devices , such as a brace, cast, or splint, may be needed to limit your child's movement and protect the joint. Your child may need to use crutches to decrease pain as he or she moves around.
  • Medicines:
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
    • Acetaminophen decreases pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended. A physical therapist teaches your child exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a torn ligament if your child's sprain does not heal with other treatments. Your child's healthcare provider may use screws to attach the bones in the ankle together. The screws may help support your child's ankle and make it stable. Ask for more information about surgery to treat your child's ankle sprain.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my child's ankle sprain?

  • Help your child rest his or her ankle so it can heal. Ask when your child can return to his or her usual activities or sports.
  • Apply ice on your child's ankle for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack or bag with a towel before you put it on your child's injury. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Compress your child's ankle. Ask if you should wrap an elastic bandage around your child's injured ligament. An elastic bandage provides support and helps decrease swelling and movement so the joint can heal. Wear as long as directed.
    How to Wrap an Elastic Bandage
  • Elevate your child's ankle above the level of the heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your child's ankle on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
    Elevate Leg (Child)

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has severe pain in his or her ankle.
  • Your child's foot or toes are cold or numb.
  • Your child's ankle becomes more weak or unstable (wobbly).
  • Your child cannot put any weight on the ankle or foot.
  • Your child's swelling has increased or returned.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child's pain does not go away, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.