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Can walking on a sprained ankle make it worse?

Walking on a sprained ankle is actually good for its recovery if you go about it the right way and give it the necessary support. However, walking on a sprained ankle can make it worse if you limp on regardless of the pain signals and other symptoms that tell you you’re overdoing it. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.

Can walking on a sprained ankle make it worse?

In this article:

We’ve also made a video about this:

This article is about ankle sprains involving the lateral (outer) and medial (inner) ankle ligaments. High ankle sprains require a different type of treatment.

Getting the balance right

Unlike our muscles, our joints (such as the ankle) don’t have arteries and veins going into and out of them to supply nutrients and remove bad stuff. Synovial fluid fulfils this function in our joints, but it needs the joint to move to be able to flow around the joint to do its work.

So, walking on the sprained ankle is a good way to get it moving to enable the synovial fluid to play its part in the healing process, but obviously this shouldn’t make your injury worse; the trick is to get the balance right.

Also, the research indicates that the quicker you can get to the point where you start to put some weight on your sprained ankle, the better your recovery will be. Of course, this has to be done within the limits of pain; it doesn't mean “push through pain at all costs”. This principle also applies to the general rehab of your injured ankle, which should go hand-in-hand with your attempts to get walking again. (Read more about the treatment of ankle sprains.)

If your ankle is a lot more swollen by the end of the day, it may be a sign that you've walked and stood too much during the day.

It’s all about how much walking and standing you can do without increasing your current pain and discomfort in the moment and in the subsequent 24 hours. Injuries often don’t complain while you’re overdoing something, but then they flare up hours later or even the next morning.

So, whenever you’ve been walking inside or outside the house on your sprained ankle, with or without support, remember to check that your ankle isn’t more sore and/or swollen up to 24 hours afterwards. If it is, you’ve been overdoing it and should scale back on your walking for the time being.

When to start walking on a sprained ankle

You should be able to walk short distances inside the house, without discomfort, before going out for longer walks, whether it’s for errands or for exercise. It’s okay to be aware of your recovering ankle, but your gait pattern should be relatively normal – rolling forwards over your foot as you walk – whether you’re walking with or without support.

Below, I will discuss various ways to support your ankle, whether it’s inside the house while your ankle is still painful and swollen, or out and about when you’re walking longer distances and may encounter more challenging situations such as uneven terrain or getting jostled in crowds.

In severe cases, you will probably have to start off with crutches, an ankle brace, and supportive shoes. As your sprained ankle heals and you can walk with a normal gait pattern, you should be able to ditch the crutches, the ankle brace, and then the shoes, in that order. With a mild sprain, you may get away with starting without crutches or even an ankle brace.

If you have a severe ankle sprain, you may have to use crutches and a brace to walk.
If you have a severe ankle sprain, you may have to use crutches and a brace to walk.


If your ankle is really painful and swollen, you may have to start off by walking around the house on crutches and putting just enough weight on it that it still feels relatively comfortable. (Here’s our step-by-step guide to walking with crutches.)

When walking outside with crutches, stay away from uneven terrain, because you can easily lose your balance and end up suddenly having to place all your weight on the injured ankle. The same goes for crowded places where people can bump into you.

Ankle brace

If you have a severe ankle sprain and you've torn quite a significant number of your ligaments or portion of the ligament, wearing an ankle brace is a good option.

The right type of brace allows for the up-and-down movement of the ankle that’s necessary for walking (and gets that synovial fluid to move around the joint) but prevents side-to-side movement. The latter will put strain on the injured ligaments and mimics the movement through which the ankle probably got sprained in the first place.

You don’t want an ankle brace that’s too soft, but also, you don’t want one that’s so rigid as to stop all movement of the ankle. Here's a few examples of useful braces:

Our article that focuses specifically on ankle braces for sprains has some more examples and provides guidance on what level of stability your ankle sprain might need.

Supportive shoes

I know many people prefer not to wear shoes inside the house, but if you feel really uncomfortable walking around barefoot, supportive shoes may be the way to go. And I would definitely recommend them when going outside.

Flip-flops, sandals, or really flexible shoes like some of those Nike ones that feel as if you're walking on jelly will not give your sprained ankle the necessary support. In fact, shoes with thick, wobbly soles will make your ankle work harder than when you’re barefoot, because you’ll have to “balance” to stay on top of the shoes.

Avoid walking long distances in unsupportive shoes.
Avoid walking long distances in unsupportive shoes.

Taking the final step – walking for exercise on a sprained ankle

It doesn't make sense to walk for exercise if you can't walk comfortably around the house yet.

Start with short, slow walks, and then gradually increase the speed and distance as your ankle recovers. The faster you walk, the harder everything has to work and the more likely it is to irritate the injured bits.

Fast walking is more likely to irritate your ankle than slow walking.
Fast walking is more likely to irritate your ankle than slow walking.

If your discomfort is more than 1 out of 10 while you’re walking for exercise, you’re overdoing it.

And definitely check the 24-hour response. What does my ankle feel like tonight? Is it significantly more uncomfortable than it was last night when I didn't go for a walk? If the answer is yes, it's not ready for the distance you walked, and you will likely have to make that shorter. The same applies if it's more swollen or you have more pain the next day.

How we can help

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

The Sports Injury Physio team

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Maryke Louw

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.



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