How bad do sprained ankles get, anyway?
June 14, 2010 6:05 PM   Subscribe

I have a sprained ankle. Is it worth going to the emergency room for, or can I wait until tomorrow for a regular clinic?

I live in Ontario and am covered by Ontario health care, but I just moved to Toronto temporarily for work so I don't have access to my regular clinic locations. I have no access to a car, though I live close to the subway line. I can't find a clinic reasonably close to me (downtown ish) that's still open. I called the hospital and was informed that the emergency room was the only thing still open, but that seems a bit melodramatic for a sprained ankle.

There was something wrong with the heel of the shoe I was wearing and I skidded across a polished floor and twisted my foot. At the time, it just throbbed a little, and I was sitting for most of the afternoon and didn't notice too much apart from a bit of pain when I walked around the office. This pain had increased a fair amount by the time I started home, and I had to walk slowly to minimize the load on my foot. It's a little better if I put my weight on the ball of my foot, away from the pain area (just below and a little to the front of my ankle). There is almost no swelling or redness, but the area is warm to the touch.

Right now I can hobble around my apartment gingerly if I'm leaning on the tip-toes of the sprained foot, which creates a sort of low-level throbbing.

So, verdict? I'm inclined to just ice it and wait it out, but I wanted to consult AskMe in case there was something secretly lethal about sprained ankles that I wasn't aware of. Thank you!
posted by Phire to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
There is nothing lethal about sprained ankles, but you wouldn't know it from the number of sprained ankles I see in the emergency department every day.

Take your ibuprofen/Tylenol and get an AirCast/crutches if needed from your primary care doctor.

p.s. IANYD! :-)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:10 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I sprained my ankle in the evening several years ago, the doctor on call (from my school's health clinic) I spoke to told me that as long as I could get to the bathroom if needed and generally take care of myself, I could wait until the next day to have it looked at. My sprain manifested itself different from yours, though: it blew up almost immediately. I don't remember it being warm to the touch.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:18 PM on June 14, 2010

You're totally fine until tomorrow. I went to the emergency room once for something like this, and I felt right silly when they sent me home with instructions to take ibuprofen and RICE. Chances are it will feel a LOT better tomorrow anyway - if not, you won't have lost anything by waiting. (IANYD disclaimer disclaimer etc.)
posted by ErikaB at 6:22 PM on June 14, 2010

At least being in canada, you can go out and get codeine with aspirin/ibuprofen.
posted by TheBones at 6:24 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: I've sprained my ankles many, many times. Sometimes mildly, a few times REALLY badly where the whole foot swelled up, turned black and blue, and I couldn't put any weight on it for weeks and walked with pain for a couple or months. I went to the hospital for all the moderate and severe sprains. Everytime, the most they could do for me was take an X-ray to ensure that no bones were broken.

You'll be fine until tomorrow.
posted by randomstriker at 6:25 PM on June 14, 2010

Definitely wait it out. If you go to the ER, you'll just be waiting out there, in an uncomfortable chair, likely next to a person with inadequate personal hygiene and by a loud television playing the Canadian equivalent of Fox News.

Seconding/thirding ibuprofen and RICE.

IANAD, but I am a klutz - been there.

And please don't tell me that Canada doesn't have anything like Fox News. I simply cannot bear it.
posted by jeoc at 6:28 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: Call Telehealth Ontario and they can tell you what to do to help your ankle until you get to your doctor.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:29 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sweet, thanks, everyone. I was hoping that would be the consensus.

(I called Telehealth. They're kind of awesome.)

jeoc: "And please don't tell me that Canada doesn't have anything like Fox News. I simply cannot bear it."

Not yet we don't.
posted by Phire at 6:31 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: If you have any sport tape, making a tape boot will help a lot for stability while your ankle heals. I do some of what this guy does- the "stirrup-horseshoe" combos and the "heel locks" are really good; I don't use any of the wrap stuff or the extra million pieces of tape he uses. Don't wrap it too tight, and keep an eye on your foot- if your toes feel numb, unreasonably cold, or look bluish, remove the tape.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:23 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: pseudostrabismus: That's amazing! I don't have any tape on hand and at any rate I'm reluctant to call attention to myself at the office, but that's definitely a good reference to have on hand. Thank you!
posted by Phire at 8:03 PM on June 14, 2010

if you can put weight on it and there is no sharp pain there is no need for a doctor. Just ice and rest it and wrap it up with an ace bandage. I've chipped bones in my heel that doctors just wrapped up and sent me home.
posted by any major dude at 8:25 PM on June 14, 2010

I have to disagree with any major dude here. I fell down a single stair about five years ago and injured my foot. I could put weight on it and had no sharp pain. I didn't follow up medically like I should have. It turned out to be broken in five places, and it took months to heal. It still hurts sometimes. Definitely see a doctor in the next few days.
posted by decathecting at 8:45 PM on June 14, 2010

Glad to help. The tape boot can go under a sock and shoe, by the way. It's much less noticeable- and works WAY better- than a tensor bandage or elastic brace. I played sports for two months on a sprained ankle thanks to copious use of tape boots. They really are remarkable; there's a reason Olympic gymnasts win Gold medals with them despite injuries.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:57 PM on June 14, 2010

When I broke my ankle I could still hobble around on it. So, I wouldn't skip the visit to the doctor tomorrow.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:05 PM on June 14, 2010

Yeah, just wanted to chime in. I had a comedy injury recently (sat too long and foot went dead; stood up and fell right over) which resulted in a very painful sprained ankle. Nothing that rest, sensible shoes and a little limping did not solve within the space of a couple of weeks. Take paracetamol for pain. IANAD :) I think you should see a doctor if the pain hasn't lessened within the week, just to be sure nothing else is amiss, but don't worry too much in the meantime. This is why God invented packets of frozen peas.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:18 AM on June 15, 2010

i sprained my ankle last week. i went to an orthopedic surgeon a few days afterward (while RICEing it up like a champ) and she is putting me in eight weeks of physical therapy to build up strength in the ankle.

so my advice is to look into physical therapy. time consuming and annoying, but relatively painless and it works! i can suggest some general exercises to do (this is my second time dealing with a sprained ankle), so feel free to me-mail me.
posted by silverstatue at 8:35 AM on June 15, 2010

Years ago I sprained my ankle badly. I was taken to the ER where an over-zealous junior doctor recommended a cast. Overnight my foot swelled in the cast and I had to go back next day to have it sawed off as my toes had turned blue and I couldn't feel my leg below the knee.

So, no, rest it, strap it, ice it, elevate it for a few days, then if it's no better, see a doctor.
posted by essexjan at 1:30 PM on June 15, 2010

Best answer: IANAD or YD but just adding to this AskMe for posterity, because I did this on Saturday, and was miles away from an ER, so had to just wing it.

I had severe swelling and bruising almost immediately. I was able to get in to my GP on Monday, which ended up with x-rays and an orthopedic consult. Both the ortho and the GP said that my interim treatment was the best thing to have done, and what they would have recommended until office hours anyway (thanks Dr. Google!). It was a modified RICE called PRINCE, and I added the remarks that my docs have since advised. (The first thing they wanted to know: "how did this happen, and what did you do afterward")

Protection... Use a protective brace, like an air-boot or another form of ankle support.
Rest... Stay off the foot until you can walk without pain.
Ice... For at least the first 24 to 72 hours or until the swelling goes down, apply an ice pack for 10 to 20 minutes every hour or two during the day. Don't apply the ice pack directly to skin, but over a towel or sock.
NSAIDs... such as ibuprofen, a medicine that reduces swelling and pain. I did 600 mg as needed for pain. The ortho said I could have safely done a twice-daily OTC ibuprofen regimen with food, until I got in for the exam.
Compression... An elastic compression wrap, such as an ACE bandage, will help reduce swelling. Do not wrap too tightly, where the swelling pushes out around the bandage to toes or calf. If it gets uncomfortable, take it off. The compression should be snug, not binding.
Elevation... Raise your ankle above the level of your heart for 2 to 3 hours a day if possible. This helps to reduce swelling and bruising. If you can elevate all night during sleep, even better.

Just wanted to also add that right after the injury, I was certain that I had only sprained, not fractured... because I could put weight on it, wasn't in sharp pain, I had good range of motion, I could wiggle my toes, etc. Then, two days later the x-ray indicated a tiny fracture. So until it gets looked at, better to assume the unknown.

Hope it's healed up, Phire!
posted by pineapple at 11:42 AM on June 23, 2010

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