TREAT A SPRAINED ANKLE right and you can be on your feet in a few days and back in action in a few weeks. A severe or mistreated sprain, however, may not heal for six months or more. The first goal is to limit internal bleeding and cut down on the swelling. There are four classic steps to a quick and successful recovery, dubbed RICE:
* REST. Get off your feet immediately. A sprain's intense pain eases after a few minutes, tempting you to keep walking or playing. Hours later you may find yourself with a swollen, discolored ankle too sore to stand on. Stay off the ankle until the swelling stabilizes (crutches may be necessary for a day or two) and you can walk easily.
* ICE: Cold curtails bleeding by narrowing blood vessels and helps reduce swelling. Fill a plastic bag with crushed ice and strap it onto the ankle with a towel or an elastic bandage. Or try using frozen peas or corn from the supermarket freezer case. Keep the ankle iced for about 20 minutes or until it starts to feel numb, then take off the ice pack and give the ankle time to regain some warmth. Repeat this procedure at least three or four times a day for two days.