Ankle injuries typically consist of a stretch or tear of the ligaments that support and stabilize the ankle joint, muscle strain, or trauma to the bones. Symptoms include aching pain, swelling, discoloration, inability to bear weight and decreased range of motion and strength.
When an ankle injury occurs during practice or competition, stop playing. Based on the level of pain, leave the playing field with assistance, if necessary.
Once off the field or court, examine the ankle. If it looks different from the other ankle, such as an obvious deformity or swelling; or, if a “pop” or crunching noise was heard or felt, it may need medical attention at a hospital emergency room or urgent care center for an exam and X-rays.
If the pain is severe, the ankle injury could be a sprain, with a partial or complete tear of the ligament. A sports medicine doctor or your primary care physician needs to see this type of injury.
If the doctor advises refraining from sports for a period of time, these six steps should be completed to rehab and treat the injury before returning to play. Coaches and parents can help with follow-through.
Sports Wrap: Ankle injury recovery playlist
This video series provides exercises and advice to help you recover from an ankle injury. If at anytime you experience pain while doing the recovery exercises in these videos, stop the exercises and see your athletic trainer or sports medicine provider.
You can find more ankle recovery advice on our healthy living blog, Shine365
1. Allow healing
If your child insists on exercising to stay in shape while the injury heals, check with the doctor first to make sure it is an activity that does not put stress on the injured area. The doctor may want the child to work with a physical therapist or athletic trainer to rehab the injured body part correctly.
2. Restore full range of motion and function in the injured area
Your child should do the exercises the doctor or physical therapist has prescribed to restore range of motion. If your child can move the injured ankle in the same way and as far as the good ankle, it’s time to move on to the next step in the recovery process. Good rules to follow: No return to sports if there is any limited motion in a joint. Joint movement also should be without pain.
3. Regain normal gait
After a leg injury, many athletes find that they have lost their normal gait, or the way they used to walk. When your child appears to you to be walking and jogging normally, it’s time for the next step in recovery from the injury. No child should be allowed to return to sports if limping.
4. Regain muscle strength
After an injury that has kept your child from exercising for any length of time, take the time to build back the strength in muscles that have been resting. Your doctor or athletic trainer should be able to give your child a strength training program to build the weakened muscles.
5. Regain endurance
It's important that while building endurance, the body isn’t stressed. Your child should perform activities such as swimming, running in the water, biking or rowing. Working out three times a week for 30 minutes each time should help get things started.
6. Regain skills
If your child has been away from their sport for any length of time, their skills (whether it be dribbling and shooting a basketball, hitting a softball or kicking a soccer ball) will not be as sharp as before the injury. The focus should be on regaining skills before playing in competition. Your child should be able to complete one to two practices with no limitations before returning to a game situation.
Add to these steps your time, patience and encouragement. And remember, athletic tape or braces should be used along with, not instead of, rehabilitation.
Kids are usually eager to return to play and don't have the discipline to take these steps on their own. Because of that and because parents don't have the experience to know when it is safe for their child to progress to the next step, consulting with a licensed athletic trainer or physical therapist at each step along the way is advised.
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