A sprained ankle might seem like a temporary inconvenience, but there’s growing evidence that the consequences can be serious and long lasting. Recent studies have found that people who suffer one ankle sprain are extremely likely to experience recurrences, with 40% to 70% of first-time sprainers developing “chronic ankle instability.”

Self-defense: Whether or not you’ve had an ankle sprain, do ankle-strengthening exercises regularly. These can include hopping in place or hopping from place to place on one leg or standing on one foot and bending over to pick things up from the floor.

Consider wearing ankle braces when engaging in activities that often cause sprained ankles such as tennis, basketball or hiking on uneven ground, especially if you have sprained your ankle before. Lace-up braces or rigid braces can be equally effective or you can have your ankles taped by an athletic trainer. But avoid slip-on neoprene ankle sleeves, which provide very little support.

If you do sprain your ankle…

Resist the urge to “walk it off.” Instead, keep your weight off the ankle as much as possible for at least 24 to 48 hours to give the ligaments a chance to heal. Use crutches to get around. During these first few days, use ice and keep the ankle elevated as much as possible.

When the ankle starts to feel better, try balancing on that side. If you can do this without pain for 30 seconds, try the balance training exercises such as the hopping and reaching exercises described above. If you can do those without pain, too, your ankle probably is ready to return to sports or hiking.

Note: It’s always a good idea to seek a consultation from a medical professional. He/she can confirm the initial evaluation and determine what additional follow-up is needed.

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