A sprained ankle is a relatively small injury but it can still bring a lot of pain and discomfort. This injury occurs when the ligaments in the ankle are damaged by being moved in a way that is unnatural to them. While there are a few medical treatments that can address the problem, they are usually not needed, and a sprained ankle can be taken care of at home. It can be difficult to sleep when you are in pain, and sleeping with a sprained ankle is no exception.
Here we will show you how to sleep with a sprained ankle, the best sleeping positions, what pillows to use, how to make the sprain heal faster and more:
But First: What is a Sprained Ankle?
A sprained ankle is an injury to the tendons in the ankle. It happens when the ankle is moved in a way other than it is intended, such as rolling the ankle when stepping, landing incorrectly when jumping off of something, or even tripping on an uneven sidewalk or uneven ground.
When the ankle is moved or jarred in this way it can tear, strain, or otherwise be damaged. It can be difficult to walk on a sprained ankle, and it may require rest to heal it, without further strain. Many at home treatments can help to ease the discomfort while it heals, and encourage it to heal quickly.
Symptoms of a Sprained Ankle
Symptoms of a sprained ankle include swelling, bruising or discoloration. It will also be sore and uncomfortable. Additionally, it may feel stiff and hard to move, as well as feeling very sore to the touch, and you may not be able to put weight on it or walk on it.
If it is determined that an x-ray is required, it may show the part of the ligaments that are injured or if the injury is a break in the bone rather than a sprain. As some of the symptoms are the same as a broken bone, a doctor will do a physical examination of the ankle first to determine if an x-ray is needed.
Sleeping with a Sprained Ankle
It may be difficult to sleep with a sprained ankle as the pain can be difficult to sleep through, and if anything bumps it while you sleep the pain is likely to wake you. To ensure the best sleep possible, there are a few steps to take before drifting to sleep.
First decide if you want to keep it in a brace or tensor bandage at night or not. If you are not using a wrap during the night than select a pillow or pillows that will help to keep your ankle still overnight and keep your foot from moving around.
Sleep with the foot elevated higher up than the rest of your body to keep the blood flowing back up your leg. This will both improve pain levels so you can sleep but will also keep the swelling down. Bruising can be improved by keeping the foot elevated, and the healing will subsequently be faster.
When elevating your foot, the most comfortable way to sleep will be on your back or on your side. If you are sleeping on your back, simply use pillows and place them underneath the sprained ankle to raise it higher than the rest of the body. If this is uncomfortable use another pillow to support the leg above the ankle at the knee or just below the knee. This will keep the ankle both elevated and straight, while removing any pressure from it.
For side sleepers sleep on the opposite side to the sprain. Use a pillow between your ankles to keep the injured ankle elevated higher than the other, and to also keep it from pressing against the other ankle and causing pain. It may be necessary to place a pillow between the knees as well, to create a slow incline to the sprained ankle, allowing it to remain straight while still being elevated.
A thicker pillow that holds it shape will offer more support for the ankle and will help it to stay elevated for a longer period of time, however a softer pillow may form around the ankle and keep it positioned properly through the night. To achieve the best result for you, try a few pillows or cushions in the evening to determine which is most comfortable, or try a softer pillow stacked on top of a firmer pillow for both support and comfort.
Consider a body pillow next to you while you sleep to keep you from shifting and rolling during the night. This is important as moving during the night can reposition your ankle and cause it to be no longer elevated and/or increase the pain if something touches it. A sprain will remain sore to the touch for a few days and this can make sleeping difficult.
A travel pillow that is curved may be a suitable way to elevate a sprained ankle too. Place the curved side up and place the ankle within the pillow, which will then curve around the ankle. This can keep it elevated even if you shift or roll during sleep, as the curved pillow will surround the ankle on 3 sides and support it no matter which way it is positioned.
If you prefer to sleep in a brace or tensor bandage, ensure that it is tight enough to keep your ankle from bending, but not tight enough to cause pain or discomfort that will make it hard to sleep.
We do not recommended sleeping on your stomach during the first few days after a sprain, as this will make it difficult or impossible to elevate the ankle well, and make it more likely to be moved into an uncomfortable angle or moved in a way that will cause more pain.
How to Sleep with a Sprained Ankle: Daytime Home Treatments
Common home treatments for minor injuries are well suited to treating a sprained ankle. The first stage is to rest the ankle, and avoiding walking on it completely at first. This allows the swelling to go down, and elevating the ankle on pillows or other supports will speed the reduction in swelling. When seated the ankle should be lifted on one or two pillows, which will move the blood flow back up the leg relieving the swelling as well as the pain. Often when swelling and inflammation occur it presses on the nerves surrounding it, which causes pain and discomfort.
Placing ice on your ankle for 20 minutes at a time will help to reduce the swelling and bruising, relieving the pain that occurs after injury. If a flexible ice pack is unavailable a bag of frozen vegetables works well as it will form around the ankle. This places ice on each side of the ankle and will improve the swelling and reduce the pain. It is recommended to begin a cycle of ice on for 10 minutes then ice off for another 10, to cool the ankle and lower the swelling without making it painfully cold or risking ice burns. Wrap the ice pack, frozen vegetables, or bag of ice in a towel to avoid ice touching the skin directly.
Once the swelling has gone down, it’s time to wrap it up and keep it still. Use an ankle brace or a tensor bandage to hold your ankle in the most comfortable position. To use a tensor bandage wrap it tightly enough that it is immobile, but not tight enough that it increases the pain or cuts off the circulation. If your toes begin to feel cold, tingly, or change color, then the bandage may be too tight or there may be more damage than a sprain.
When healing a sprain, it is important to rest the ankle as much as possible. Continuing to walk on or use a sprained ankle can worsen the injury and will slow the healing. This requires remaining seated with your ankle elevated when possible, and using either a brace or bandage to keep it still. When you need to walk do so carefully and only when it is in a brace or wrapped to offer support to your ankle and keep the ligaments from carrying all the weight. Resting also requires ensuring enough sleep is being had each night, as the body heals more during sleep than it does during waking hours.
Over the counter pain relievers can be used as directed to reduce the pain. A pain reliever which is anti-inflammatory may reduce the swelling and inflammation in the ankle which will make it more comfortable during rest and can encourage a full night sleep.
Occasionally a bad sprain, or one that has torn the ligament in a way that it will not naturally repair itself, may need a procedure to repair the damage. This can be completed as a day surgery where the ligaments are moved back into their correct positioning where they will then heal naturally, or they can be repaired with a surgical procedure. After care instructions will be provided after the procedure and should be followed as closely as possible to ensure fast healing and avoid infection.
How to Sleep with a Sprained Ankle: How Long Will it Take to Heal?
The healing process will depend upon the degree of sprain, how many ligaments are injured and how badly, and the care that is provided. A light sprain may heal in a week to two weeks, while a more severe strain may take a month or even six to eight weeks to heal. The body heals the best during sleep and when the body is at rest, making rest the most important treatment for any sprained ankle. That’s why following our instructions on how to sleep with a sprained ankle is so important.
A sprain that can be treated at home with ice, elevation, and rest, will heal faster than a more serious sprain that requires aids to walk or a surgical procedure to correct. These serious sprains will take longer and will require more detailed care to avoid infection or undoing the work that was completed in surgery.
Some sprains may require a series of stretches and ways to slowly work up the weight that it is holding, or physiotherapy, to regain the strength of your ankle. This can occur if the sprain is severe, or if medical intervention was required. The longer it is rested and remains unused the weaker the muscles will become, so a sprain that takes weeks to heal may feel weaker than the other ankle when it is being used again. This will even out over time and with proper care.
How to Sleep with a Sprained Ankle: our Final thoughts
A sprained ankle can be a painful injury that requires rest, elevation, support in a tensor bandage or brace, and ice to ease the swelling and discomfort.
Sleeping with a sprained ankle will require the ankle to be elevated and immobilized throughout the night. People are less aware of their own movement during sleep and this is when it is most likely to be moved, bumped, and in some cases shifted in a way that worsens the injury. That makes it necessary to use precautions when preparing for bed and making sure you find a comfortable sleeping position that will allow your ankle to remain still and elevated throughout the night.
The more rest and sleep you get the faster your body will be able to repair itself and repair the damaged cells. After a few days light steps can be taken and you can begin to bare weight on your ankle again after a few days, for short periods of time. The amount of weight that it can support and for how long will improve each day, and a full return to complete functioning will occur. In some cases, there may be arthritis developing in the ankle, which may cause discomfort even after healing.