Autumn is upon us and both club and school sports are in full swing. Along with football games and cooler weather, comes an increase in sports injuries. The most common sports injury that I see, as a Foot & Ankle Surgeon or Podiatrist, is by far ankle sprains. Having played soccer on Spokane Select teams growing up, I have had multiple ankle sprains. The treatment I received was RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and “walk it off.” With this treatment I got better for a short time, but without fail, sprained an ankle every 3 months. Without follow up, my ankle instability worsened to the point where I missed more games than I got to play in a year. Ankle sprains are most common in contact sports with cutting activities such as football, basketball, and soccer. For parents, injury can occur trudging across the uneven ground to get to your assigned field, which is inevitably at least a mile from where you parked. Regardless of how the injury occurs, it will take a year to fully heal. Most of my patient’s are shocked to hear the recovery time and have an expectation that sprains heal within a few weeks. If it didn’t break, then it can’t be that bad right? A sprain by definition is a ligamentous injury. Ligaments have less blood supply and can take longer to heal than bone.
Many people try to return to sports activity too soon after an ankle sprain. This will lead to recurrence of swelling and increased pain, especially if not braced properly. The ligaments need time to heel and appropriate exercises to strengthen and retrain. This is not something that can typically be done on one’s own. Taking time out of a busy schedule to see a Foot & Ankle Specialist and go to physical therapy will allow for faster healing. This gets you back to pre-injury activity level much faster with a stable ankle. Otherwise a moderate sprain can lead to re-injury and more time off the field.
An ankle sprain does need RICE initially, but it also requires long term follow up from a Foot & Ankle Specialist, temporary bracing, and physical therapy. There are different grades of ankle sprains and the treatment regimen varies based on the severity of the sprain. The ligaments can become lax if left untreated, and result in ankle instability and chronic sprains. Over years of functioning with an unstable ankle, arthritis can occur and may require an ankle fusion or total joint replacement. In children, the growth plates are very close to the injured area and need serial radiographs to monitor closely. Cartilage or tendon damage can also occur with a severe sprain. A Foot & Ankle Specialist is trained to detect these injuries and treat them appropriately.