The sad story of a badly sprained ankle


March basketball tournaments were bouncing along the TV screen when a player fell. The replay showed how one fellow was shoved off balance and came down trying to stop his fall. 

The camera was watching as his ankle gave way and the foot turned inward. When he stood again, he was limping and I could almost feel his pain, made more obvious by the disappointment on his face. It was unavoidable; he was out of the game and tournament with an injured ankle.

I don’t know for sure, but I imagine the trainer examining his foot and noting no deformity, making it less likely to be a broken bone. 

As the examiner feels the outside areas of the ankle, I can almost hear the player admonishing the trainer. “Stop it. That’s where it hurts.” As the player’s foot turned in, most likely one or more of the three outside ligaments were stretched and possibly torn. 

Ligaments are the very tough fibrous tissue that connect bone-to-bone, which are different than Tendons, which connect muscle-to-bone. In this player’s case, it’s likely the ligaments involved were those that tie the outer bone of the lower leg to the ankle bones of the foot and are meant to keep the ankle from turning too far inward. Ligaments between bones are strong bonds and allow for minimal movement while preserving stability. Test your own ankle movement by repositioning the ankle side-to-side or inward and outward. Note how limited that motion is when compared to the up and down movement of the foot as the calf muscles and Achilles tendon push you off, helping you walk or run. 

Without the side-to-side stability ligaments, the foot would not be capable of normal walking on irregular ground, let alone the running, turning, and leaping required to play in a basketball game. What is almost more incredible is how pain from such an injury forces us to rest and protect the ankle so it can heal. 

The treatment for this injury and for almost any ligament or tendon injury, is directed by the mnemonic ‘RICE.’ R is for rest, I for ice, C for compression wrap, and E for elevation. Most certainly, the trainer will use those directives and over the next two weeks, the player will gradually move back to careful and easy walking once again. In about six weeks, 90 percent of the healing will be achieved. 

Next season he will be ready to play again.


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