The Difference between High and Low Ankle Sprains

When you first experience an ankle injury, you probably won’t be thinking about anything but the pain. In the moment, you might not think it’s important to identify what kind of a sprain you’ve got. Think again: Determining whether you have a high ankle sprain or a low ankle sprain could make a lot of difference in your case. Read on to learn about the crucial differences between high and low ankle sprains, and how knowing the distinction will make you better prepared for your injury.


When it comes to pain, all sprains might seem the same. However, with over 25,000 estimated ankle sprains occurring daily in the U.S. alone, it’s important to know the facts. A sprain involving a wrong move or accident in day to day like has an 80 percent chance of being due to inversion. This means that the foot has moved in such a way as to stretch the ligaments attached to the ankle bone. In other words, this is a low ankle sprain, occurring near the base of the foot. With this kind of sprain, it’s common to experience an instant pain along with swelling and bruising.

The pain will also tend to be focused around the outside of the foot. A low ankle sprain, or “common” sprain, also might not feel like much at first, but the pain will grow the more pressure you put on it. High ankle sprains, on the other hand, are much more intense in terms of pain, to the point of feeling like a break. These sprains occur higher up in the foot, involving the ligaments of the ankle joint rather than the outside ankle ligaments concerned in low ankle sprains.


When it comes to recovery time, low ankle sprains are much less intensive. These sprains, occurring commonly among everyone from professional athletes to kids on the playground, don’t necessarily involve a lot of downtime. Many professional athletes are even able to carry on with the game after bracing up the affected area, as long as they’re careful not to put pressure on it. The recovery time, usually involving a regimen of icing, bracing or taping, and the removal of weight from the affected area, differs for everyone. Just as some folks are ready to go in a few minutes, others will need to rest easy for a while. With a high sprain, however, there’s a significant chance that a period of recovery will be needed, often requiring pain killers in addition to icing and bracing.


As stated before, ankle sprains, especially in the lower region, are one of the most common ailments in the United States. While more serious injuries have a larger likelihood among professional athletes or adults whose jobs require physical labor, ankle sprains can happen as the result of carelessness, tripping, or even getting out of bed on the wrong foot. High ankle sprains, however, being more complex, are less likely to occur as the result of a careless accident or stumble. High ankle sprains are usually the result of a sudden twisting action of the type that occurs mostly in contact sports. Runners and gymnasts are also more likely to develop high ankle sprains. The recovery time for high ankle injuries sustained in sports or competitions is around six weeks, with a six month period of increased pain or symptoms related to the sprain still showing up.

Odds of a Re-Sprain

One of the most dangerous aspects of sustaining a sprain is the vulnerability that injury opens you up to in terms of re-spraining. With a low ankle sprain, the compromised position of your ligaments opens you up to a 70% chance of re-spraining. Though high ankle sprains are less common overall, they still have the ability to increase your chances of a re-sprain simply by weakening your ligaments and requiring a longer period of downtime during which your ankle won’t be in full use. Most doctors suggest pursuing a course of strength and balance training after an injury. Committing to a specific set of exercises will not only allow you to be more mindful of balance and sudden movements but to protect your body from falling prey to the same injuries time and again.

Getting Help

When a low ankle sprain first occurs, even if it doesn’t feel like much, it’s always best to seek medical help. Low ankle sprains are dangerous precisely because they can disguise themselves so well, exposing the ankle to greater damage the more it’s used directly after a sprain. To avoid this, take the weight off your ankle immediately and attend to any swelling or bruising with ice. When applicable, apply a brace or bandage. If you’re in any doubt about what kind of sprain you’ve experienced, see orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bill Nordt for more details on different types of ankle sprains.