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Ankle Sprains can Bench Athletes

By Abbott Kagan II, MD
And Jim Marshall, ATC/L

One of the most common injuries sustained by today's athlete is the ankle sprain. Athletes who participate in any sport are vulnerable to ankle sprains. The best method for avoiding ankle injuries is accomplished through a prevention and maintenance program. Here's how some ankle injuries occur, ways to prevent them and how to treat the injury once is has occurred.

Ankle injuries usually result from a sudden turning or twisting of the ankle. These injuries generally happen with no warning. The most common ways athletes turn their ankle is when the ankle is turned inward (inversion ankle sprain). Ninety percent of the time, the toes are pointed downward and the ankle rolls toward the inside, affecting the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. There are three ligaments on the side of the ankle: anterior talofibular ligament, fibular calcaneal ligament, and posterior talofibular ligament. On the inside of the ankle, there is a broad structure called the deltoid complex. The deltoid complex is much stronger, which provides more stability; thus fewer eversion ankle sprains (ankle turned outward) occur.

There are several ways to prevent ankle sprains. One is to make sure that you stretch the calves before any activity. The way to achieve this is by performing the wall stretch. Two separate muscles make up the calf, so it is important to stretch both of them. Next you must strengthen the muscles of the lower leg, which is done by doing calf raises. These are performed while standing, pushing up on your toes allowing the heel to rise off the ground. The strengthening exercises should be part of a routine maintenance program: two sets of 30 repetitions are recommended.

When an ankle sprain occurs, there is usually some swelling and pain. The pain is normally located over the ligaments that are involved. Quick tests used to differentiate between a fracture and an ankle sprain are the compression test and the heel tap test. The compression test is done by applying pressure to the inside (tibia) and outside (fibula) bones of the lower leg. If the athlete experiences pain with this test, she may have a fracture.

The heel tap test is performed by tapping on the heel with a closed fist, striking the bottom of the foot. If the athlete has pain with the tap test, this may be indicative of a fracture. If a fracture is suspected, then the athlete needs to be place on crutches and should seek medical attention.

Regardless of whether it is a fracture or a sprain, the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation) should be initiated immediately to decrease the pain and swelling. For compression, use an Ace-type bandage. Through the immediate application of ice, the athlete should be able to reduce recovery time.