Nearly 45 million children around the United States play organized sports, making foot and ankle injuries increasingly common. In fact, these injuries make up nearly one third of visits to sports medicine clinics. Ankle sprains are one of the most common adolescent sports injuries.
Unfortunately, however, many of these sprains go untreated. This can lead to instability and pain for months after the initial injury.
What makes your child prone to ankle sprains, and how can you help prevent them?
Kids who play basketball, indoor volleyball, and field sports are at the highest risk for ankle sprains. Those who exhibit limited range of motion and strength in their ankles are also more likely to incur an ankle injury. Encourage your kids to stretch their ankles before sporting events. You can also look up simple, at-home ankle strengthening exercises to help your child lower their injury risk.
Suspect a Sprain?
Oh no! You suspect your child has sprained an ankle—what should you do?
Your first instinct might be to immediately wrap up the affected ankle and keep it still. But immobilizing the joint is not a good idea. It’ll get stiff! Keeping as much of the ankle’s range of motion as possible has been shown to get your child back to normal activity and decrease the likelihood of reinjury down the road.
If weightbearing is painful, have your child use crutches to walk. Tylenol and NSAIDs (ibuprofen or naproxen) are useful to reduce pain and swelling.
The “RICE” method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate) can be helpful following ankle sprain to reduce initial swelling, but it should be used in combination with early range of motion exercises. It is critical to keep the ankle moving as much as your child can tolerate, even if it’s just moving the relaxed ankle around by hand.
Monitor your child’s symptoms for a few days, and if they don’t improve, seek orthopedic evaluation of the injury.
Studies have shown that examination is best if performed 4-5 days after the injury to accurately assess the severity of any damage to the ankle tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Michael Huang, MD, sports medicine specialist at Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group, would be happy to take a look and see what’s going on with your child’s ankle.
Evaluation of ankle injuries will include a physical exam and possibly x-rays.
Most of the time, sprains and even some fractures can be treated with the use of a walking boot or removable brace and a course of focused physical therapy to avoid recurrent pain, instability, and reinjury.
Sometimes, however, ankle injuries are more serious. Proper orthopedic evaluation is vital to rule out more severe conditions like injuries to the growth plates, complete tendon ruptures, chronic ankle impingement, cartilage damage, or other fractures.