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A sprained ankle can bring your life to a halt — quite literally, as it can be a painful injury that stops you from walking or moving around as you otherwise might.

It usually takes a few weeks for an ankle sprain to heal, but the specific length of time will vary depending on the severity of the sprain. One technique for speeding up your recovery is massaging your ankle.

But it’s important to know when and how to do it correctly. This article will help give you the insight and information to properly massage your ankle if that need arises.

Some research points to the answer being a resounding yes — you should massage a sprained ankle.

This includes a 2017 study, which found that massaging the calf muscle can help improve the ankle’s flexibility, as well as your ability to balance on the ankle joint.

But what about helping an ankle that’s recently been injured?

Some experts suggest that massaging your ankle may help reduce the pain and swelling. Certain techniques may even help break down scar tissue.

Difference between a broken and sprained ankle

A sprained ankle is an injury to the ligaments in your ankle.

A broken ankle is a break or fracture in one of the bones around your ankle joint: the tibia, fibula, or talus.

It can be a little challenging to tell the difference between a broken or sprained ankle. After all, these two types of injuries can have very similar symptoms, including pain, swelling, and bruising.

However, a break or a fracture may create a sharper pain, a crack or pop at the time of injury, or a visible deformity to the affected area. An X-ray will give your doctor more information so they can make a diagnosis.

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The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAO) advises that for the first few days after spraining your ankle, you will want to immobilize (avoid moving) the injured ankle and rest it as much as possible.

For milder sprains, the swelling and pain will last an average of 2 or 3 days, the AAO says. You can use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help with the pain.

In fact, the mnemonic “RICE” may help you remember what to do:

  • Rest the affected ankle and avoid putting weight on it.
  • Ice the ankle for short periods of time to keep the swelling down.
  • Compression wraps can help immobilize and support the ankle — and may also help with swelling.
  • Elevate your ankle above the heart as much as you can during the first 48 hours after the injury occurs.

After this first phase, your doctor may recommend starting some exercises to improve flexibility, strength, and balance.

About 72 hours after the injury, you can probably start to try some massage techniques to help ease the pain and promote blood flow to the area.

You may be a little nervous about massaging an injured body part. In that case, you can always talk with your healthcare team to ask about the benefits of self-massage versus having someone else massage your ankle.

If they say you can try it on your own, these steps may help:

  1. Start with small circular motions around the affected joint.
  2. Be very gentle, so you don’t cause additional pain. You can use your fingertips so you don’t apply too much pressure.
  3. After about 7 days, you might want to add in a new massage technique: cross-friction massage. This technique, which goes a little deeper, is intended to reduce or prevent the formation of scar tissue.
  4. You’ll use one or two fingers on one hand to massage in the direction perpendicular to the ligament. Essentially, you’ll push down, back and forth, across the ligament toward the back of the heel.

You might also try massaging the calf muscle above the ankle, which can involve several techniques, per 2017 research:

  • Effleurage can be used at the beginning of a massage session to warm up the calf muscle and increase blood circulation. Use the palm of your hand to make long, light strokes along the length of the calf.
  • Petrissage is when you use alternating muscles of both hands to squeeze and release in order to further warm up the muscles. Some people may describe this technique as kneading.
  • Other techniques are also possible, such as tapotement. This involves using your hand to strike the muscle. A friction technique uses pressure to break down scar tissue or disperse knots in the muscle.

You may experience a little discomfort during the massage, especially during the cross-friction part of the massage. But the important thing is not to cause pain. If you find yourself tightening or flinching while you or someone else is massaging the area around your ankle, you might not benefit from it.

If you’re anxious about massaging your own ankle, talk with your doctor or physical therapist and ask for some pointers.

You’ve probably been thinking about massage as an activity involving your hands. But some athletes swear by a massage gun to help them massage their muscles and relieve aches and pains.

A massage gun is a handheld percussive device that you can use to deliver a deep (and high speed) massage to your aching muscles and tissues.

A popular brand is Theragun, which is said to block pain signals to your brain and increase circulation in your muscles. You can add different types of attachments to the percussive end of the device to customize the massage.

However, you may need to consider your budget before you open your wallet to buy a Theragun. It ranges in price from just under $200 for a mini portable device to about $600 for a professional version.

Some research suggests that percussive therapy can be beneficial in certain circumstances.

For example, a small 2017 study found that athletes who wore a vibrating device enjoyed some reduced muscle soreness in their biceps.

A 2020 study found that a 5-minute massage gun treatment helped improve the range of motion in calf muscles of 16 male athletes. The authors suggested the device might have a place in a warm-up regimen.

However, these studies did not address ankle injuries specifically.

You may want to consult your doctor or physical therapist before using a massage gun on your sprained ankle. Experts do typically recommend avoiding the use of a massage gun on bones or joints, as well as on broken skin.

Many ankle sprains will heal up on their own, with a little TLC (tender loving care) on your part. But sometimes, you’ll need medical attention.

An injury that’s left untended could lead to chronic ankle instability. And a weakened ankle increases your chances of injuring it again, according to the AAO.

So, if your sprain doesn’t seem to be improving, even with some time and massage, contact your doctor.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons notes that surgeons will sometimes need to repair damaged ligaments. After this, you’ll need to complete a rehabilitation program.

Massaging your ankle after a sprain may help reduce pain and swelling, but you also want to be careful. Do not continue massaging your ankle if the pain or swelling seems to worsen. You may have a serious injury that requires professional medical care, so you want to be vigilant about changes to your ankle.