What You Should Know About Ankle Injuries

The running back makes a cut and feels a pop in his ankle.
The center jumps for the basketball and lands with her foot turned in.

Injuries to the ankle are all too familiar for anyone who has ever spent time around athletes and sports. The most common of all ankle injuries, an ankle sprain, occurs when there is a stretching and tearing of ligaments surrounding the ankle joint. The numerous ligaments around the ankle can become pulled and torn when the ankle is forced into a position not normally encountered.

The most common cause of an ankle sprain is caused by applying weight to the foot when it is in an inverted or everted position. Commonly, this happens while running or jumping on an uneven surface. The foot inverts (rolls in) or everts (rolls out) and the ligaments are stretched. Occasionally a loud "snap" or "pop" is heard at the time of the sprain. This is usually followed by pain and swelling of the ankle.

Ankle sprains are classified by the degree of severity. With a Grade I sprain, the ligament is stretched and/or a minor tear without any laxity. These can usually be taped or braced and returned to play within several days. A Grade II sprain involves a tear of the ligament with some amount of laxity. This type will involve some sort of rehabilitation and will typically not be able to return to full play for anywhere from one to four weeks. A Grade III sprain, the most serious, is a complete or near complete tear of the affected ligament. This type will generally not be able to return to play before eight weeks and involves more extensive rehabilitation and possibly surgery.

After an ankle sprain it is important to act quickly. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (R.I.C.E.) are the best immediate treatment for all sprains. Many of the problems resulting from sprains are due to blood and edema in and around the ankle joint, therefore it is important to stop the activity and apply a compression wrap and ice in order to keep swelling to a mini- mum. Ice should be used for about 15 minutes at a time. Keeping the leg elevated will help to decrease the blood flow (and swelling) to the foot. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain reliever can also be helpful to reduce pain and inflammation after the injury.

In general, weight bearing should be avoided on the joint as long as swelling is present. Whenever possible, the foot should be elevated above the level of the heart. Typically pain should decrease enough to allow moderate weight bearing without pain within the first couple of days. For a severe sprain (one you cannot put weight on), visit an SSM Cardinal Glennon Sports Medicine specialist to rule out a fracture, ligament /tendon damage or another serious ankle injury. As weight bearing becomes more tolerated, walking and a gentle stretching program can be started to increase flexibility.

Your local SSM Health Cardinal Glennon SportsCare Outreach Liaison is a great resource for treating athletes with ankle sprains. They will be able to treat and help facilitate a referral to a physician if necessary. You can reach your local representative at 314-577-5640 or by visiting https://www.ssmhealth.com/cardinal-glennon/sportscare.



Amanda Sullivan, MS, ATC, LAT
Outreach Liaison – Cardinal Glennon SportsCare
SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

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