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Ankle Sprain in Children: Care Instructions

Ankle ligaments


Your child's ankle hurts because they have stretched or torn ligaments, which connect the bones in the ankle.

Ankle sprains may take from several weeks to several months to heal. Usually, the more pain and swelling your child has, the more severe the ankle sprain is and the longer it will take to heal. Your child can heal faster and regain strength in their ankle with good home treatment.

It is very important to give your child's ankle time to heal completely, so that your child doesn't easily hurt the ankle again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Prop up your child's foot on pillows as much as possible for the next 3 days. Try to keep the ankle above the level of your child's heart. This will help reduce the swelling.
  • Your doctor may have given your child a splint, a brace, an air stirrup, or another form of ankle support to protect the ankle until it is healed. Have your child wear it as directed while the ankle is healing. Do not remove it unless your doctor tells you to. After the ankle has healed, ask your doctor whether your child should wear the brace while exercising.
  • Put ice or cold packs on your child's injured ankle for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. (Put a thin cloth between the ice pack and your child's skin.) Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down. Keep your child's splint or brace dry.
  • If your child was given an elastic bandage, keep it on for the next 24 to 36 hours but no longer. The bandage should be snug but not so tight that it causes numbness or tingling. To rewrap the ankle, begin at the toes and wrap around the ankle in a figure-eight pattern, ending 8 to 10 centimetres (3 to 4 inches) above the ankle.
  • Your child may have to use crutches until they can walk without pain. While using crutches, your child should try to bear some weight on the injured ankle if they can do so without pain. This helps the ankle heal.
  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your child has been given ankle exercises to do at home, make sure your child does them exactly as instructed. These can promote healing and help prevent lasting weakness.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has chest pain, is short of breath, or coughs up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child's foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in the toes.
  • Your child's cast or splint feels too tight.
  • Your child has signs of a blood clot in the leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness or swelling in the leg.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child has a problem with their splint or cast.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.