Mar 17, 2021

When To Seek Treatment for An Ankle Ligament Tear

A good rule of thumb for an ankle sprain is to follow at-home treatment advice for two to three weeks. If the symptoms of pain, swelling and bruising haven’t reduced or you experience ongoing instability after the injury, you should get in touch with a specialist.

You twist your ankle – perhaps doing something as innocuous as stepping off a kerb, perhaps running on uneven ground or in the middle of a game of football – and feel instant pain. A cursory search on the internet will tell you that you should treat a sprained ankle with an ice pack, anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and keeping your foot elevated to reduce pain and swelling. You may also be a fan of arnica to reduce the bruising.

But how do you know when to seek medical advice?

If you are unable to put any weight on your foot 20 minutes after the injury has occurred, you’re advised to go to A&E. An x-ray will rule out any fracture in the bones of your ankle. But it won’t show the extent of the soft tissue damage.

For less severe ankle sprains, the majority of us will treat them at home. There are some issues with leaving an ankle sprain untreated, though. The supportive structures around your ankle can get stretched, suffer micro-tears, or be torn out of the bone altogether, potentially leading to long-term instability and other issues such as arthritis.

If you’ve had an ankle sprain, you should consult with a specialist within a few days to assess the severity. If the symptoms of pain, swelling and bruising haven’t reduced or you experience ongoing instability after the injury, you should get in touch with a specialist.

To understand why it is important to seek orthopaedic or sports medicine treatment for a sprained ankle, it often helps to understand how the structures of your ankle can get damaged and what effect that can have if you leave it untreated.

What is an Ankle Ligament Tear?

Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries among adults.

The bones of your ankle are supported and mobilised by a series of ligaments, tendons and muscles. The four ligaments connect the bones, while tendons link muscles to bones.

Ankle Ligament Tear

When you roll over on your ankle, the supportive structures will naturally get stretched.

Ligaments, unlike tendons, are not very stretchy, so they are more likely to get torn. They can be pulled clean out of their anchor point in the bone, or partially or completely torn.

A ligament tear can affect the movement of your ankle joint, and impact on other structures. It’s not uncommon for bone fractures and cartilage damage to occur at the same time as an ankle sprain.

What Are the Symptoms of an Ankle Ligament Tear?

If you have torn your ankle ligament, symptoms include:

  • Swelling around your ankle joint
  • A feeling of instability
  • Bruising – sometimes up your lower leg and into your foot
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Pain when putting weight on your ankle
  • Popping sound at the time of injury

When Should I Seek Treatment for an Ankle Ligament Tear?

If any of these symptoms occur, you should seek treatment from a specialist. Also, if you have suffered a sprained ankle in the past, and persistently ‘go over’ on your ankle, it’s likely that you have chronic ligament damage.

It is really important to get treated sooner rather than later, as chronic instability and weakened ankles can lead to other more serious conditions, such as ankle arthritis.

How is an Ankle Ligament Tear Treated?

Any treatment of an ankle ligament tear starts with a thorough diagnosis. This usually includes a physical examination to test your range of motion, stability and ability to weight bear and to review the history of the injury.

An MRI or an ultrasound scan may be used to assess ligament or other soft tissue damage, and an x-ray may also be necessary to check for a fracture.

Depending on the extent of the injury, treatment options include:


A partial ankle ligament tear can be treated effectively with physiotherapy. You will be given exercises to help build up the muscles around your ankle. This will improve stability and help prevent re-injury.

A full tear, though, will require immobilisation in an Aircast boot for three weeks.

Targeted massage can help stimulate blood flow to improve healing, reduce the build-up of fluid and reduce thickening caused by scar tissue.


Capital Orthopaedics offers injection therapy to reduce inflammation after a ligament tear.


Surgery is usually only recommended if the ligament tear has caused damage to other structures of your ankle, or has resulted in long-term instability or the risk of other conditions such as arthritis.

Ligament tears can be surgically repaired by stitching them back together, re-attaching them to the bone, or replacing them with a graft (a tendon from another part of your body or from a donor).

Most ankle ligament surgery is carried out using keyhole (arthroscopic) surgery.

How Can Capital Orthopaedics Help with a Torn Ligament?

The team at Capital Orthopaedics is highly experienced at diagnosing and treating all ankle injuries.

Our consultant orthopaedic surgeons, led by internationally renowned surgeon Simon Moyes, work with top sports medicine professionals, physiotherapists and an in-house radiologist to ensure that you get the right diagnosis and most effective treatment.

All of the treatment plans are designed around your personal needs and lifestyle – whether you’re a professional sportsperson, a busy parent or an older person wanting to maintain your mobility.

Our aim is to get you back to your sports and everyday life with the least intervention, in the quickest time possible, and the lowest chance of re-injury or ongoing problems.

If you have injured your ankle and are suffering from ongoing symptoms, contact the team at Capital Orthopaedics here for more information or to book an appointment with one of our musculoskeletal experts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Walk with a Torn Ligament in Your Ankle?

Yes, you can usually walk with a torn ligament thanks to the other ligaments and supporting structures, but you may feel a lot of pain and a sensation of weakness and instability as you walk. Will a full tear, you can walk with an Aircast boot.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Torn Ankle Ligaments?

This depends on the extent of the injury, whether you have other related damage, and whether you have surgery.

It can take anything from a few weeks to several months – depending on the tear (partial or complete), and the amount of physiotherapy you are able to do.

If you have had an ankle ligament repair, you may be able return to high impact sports after 4 to 6 months.

Do Torn Ankle Ligaments Require Surgery?

Many torn ankle ligaments recover well with a short period of rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), followed by a physical therapy programme focussed on building the strength around your ankle and improving mobility or an Aircast boot for complete tears.

In more severe cases, such as a complete rupture, or if there is bone or cartilage damage, surgery may be necessary to restore strength and stability.

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