Treating the Single Most Common Sports Injury

By: Daniel W. Guehlstorf, MD

Nearly everyone will experience an ankle sprain sometime in their life. It is the single most common sports injury. Although most of these injuries heal quickly with no long term problems, many ankle sprains do need definitive medical treatment.

Most sprains occur when stepping down on an uneven surface. In sports such as basketball or soccer, that uneven surface is usually another competitor’s foot. But many non-athletes also sprain their ankle stepping on uneven pavement or a pot-hole in the yard.

Ankle Injuries

A person with an ankle injury should seek medical attention when the pain is so severe that they have difficulty bearing weight on that foot, have an extreme amount of swelling, or the ankle is not getting better within a couple weeks.

Ankle sprains are graded from 1 to 3. A grade 1 sprain is when the ligaments are stretched but not torn. Grade 2 is a partially torn ligament. Grade 3 is a completely torn ligament.

It is the grade 2 and 3 sprains that are usually so painful that weight bearing causes significant pain and swelling. The vast majority of these will get better without surgery, but they do require treatment to prevent further injury, and to prevent long term instability.

Ligament Tears

Ligaments take a minimum of six weeks to heal. They might not be painful for six weeks, but our goals of treatment are to protect that ligament for at least that length of time so it can heal to normal strength and at the correct length (not stretched out). Ankle ligaments almost always heal themselves, but if the ankle is not protected after a ligament tear, the ligament might heal elongated and not provide the check rein to keep the ankle from rolling.

If someone ends up with an unstable ankle that rolls easily, they usually need to wear a brace on that ankle or have the ligaments reconstructed. Patients that receive adequate treatment following an ankle sprain rarely need surgical intervention.

More Information

Do you have a stubborn ankle injury that just won’t heal? See a foot and ankle specialist at Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.