Ankle sprains can be a painful part of those pick-up games of basketball

Ankle sprains are among the most common sports injuries. Whether it’s football, soccer or basketball, almost all athletes – pros and weekend warriors alike – are at risk. Take, for example, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len, who sustained a right ankle sprain or his teammate, point guard Brandon Knight, who recently sprained his left ankle.

Ankle sprains are characterized by small tears to the ligaments, the structures responsible for stabilizing our moving joints. George Gendy, MD, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon with The CORE Institute, says there are two main types of ankle sprains.

“There’s the low ankle sprain and the high ankle sprain. The terms low and high describe the location of the sprain in relation to the ankle joint.”

“There’s the low ankle sprain and the high ankle sprain. The terms low and high describe the location of the sprain in relation to the ankle joint.”

The severity of the sprain is often determined by a person’s ability to walk and return to play immediately after the injury.

“Players usually find that their ankle is swollen, stuff and a little painful for about 24 to 48 hours after the injury,” he said. “High ankle sprains, however, generally take longer to heal.”

The first line of treatment for an ankle sprain is RICE therapy – rest, ice, compression and elevation. When returning to play, taping the ankle or lacing up an ankle brace provides support to the weakened ankle ligaments. Physical therapy with balance training is often used to help strengthen the muscles around the ankle.

“On average, 95 percent of ankle sprains recover with RICE, physical therapy, and taping or using lace-up braces,” he noted. “Unfortunately, that leaves about 5 percent that require more treatment.”

More severe ankle sprains can lead to a chronic recurrent unstable ankle, similar to how an ACL tear leads to an unstable knee. In such cases, the most common complaint is that the ankle feels like it is giving out during cutting or pivoting maneuvers or even during other activities, such as hiking on uneven ground.

“To help diagnose ankle instability, we typically use a stress X-ray, a special type of X-ray that tells us whether the ligaments are functioning,” he said.

When immediate or long-term instability occurs, surgery may be necessary. Similar to other ligament reconstruction procedures, it entails recreating the ligament that helps stabilize the joint.

“Arthroscopic and open ankle ligament reconstructions are excellent surgical options due to their high success rates for stabilizing the ankle joint,” he said. “The procedure typically requires outpatient surgery with an initial recovery time of about six weeks followed by physical therapy.”

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