Whether you play football, basketball, volleyball, or soccer, ankle injuries are common in sports. Our first priority as sports medicine physicians is avoiding further injury.
This often means not being able to return to the game immediately. One question that comes up often, usually after the injured athlete has gotten home and the initial efforts – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, have not completely eliminated the pain and swelling, is whether an X-ray is necessary. The two benefits of an X-ray are to evaluate for a broken bone and to elevate the alignment of the ankle joint. Sprains can cause just as much pain and swelling as a broken bone so it is not easy to tell the difference by just looking at the ankle. There are a few simple rules that have been identified to help determine when an X-ray is helpful. There are known as the Ottawa rules, developed in Canada by emergency room physicians to help them reduce the number of X-rays performed when evaluating this very common injury.
If the injured player is able to bear weight, even if it is painful, and if the tenderness is not in the areas listed above, there is a low likelihood of a fracture. In that case, continued elevation, intermittent icing, and anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful to reduce the pain and swelling. If the pain continues more than a couple of days, it is worthwhile to get it evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon or sports specialist. It is generally not advised to return to play (practice or game) if you are still having pain until a specialist has evaluated the ankle and determined it is safe.
Whether you are an aspiring athlete or a weekend warrior, our goal is to keep you healthy and active without over-treating simple problems that just need a little TLC to improve. If you have a problem that is simply not going away, don’t ignore the pain. Get the treatment you need to fully recover so you can live and play at 100%.