Football-Related Ankle Pains, Sprains and Strains
With football season quickly approaching, it's time to get excited for nail-biting games, cool weather, and cheering on your favorite team. Unfortunately, whether playing with your friends or on a team, you or your teammates will likely experience some injuries during the season. Injuries are common in the game for young players and professionals. Even the best players suffer injuries, like Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who is ready to tackle a new season after his ankle injury and surgery a few months back. Whether you're playing the game or cheering on someone you love from the sidelines, it's good to understand how ankle injuries occur and how to treat them. This will ensure you or your loved one can get back on the field as quickly as possible.
Why does football cause so many ankle injuries?
An ankle injury occurs when the ankle is twisted too far in an uncomfortable position. The direction and force of the twist will determine the severity of the injury.
Ankle injuries in football are common and can happen in different situations, whether a fall or a direct impact. Football's fast-paced and high-impact nature can end in intense injuries occurring in seconds. Tackle piles and jumping to grab the ball are common places for injuries to occur.
When the player lands on the ground, their cleats provide traction and support to help stick the landing. Unfortunately, cleats can increase the likelihood of an ankle or foot injury in some situations. An improper landing can cause the cleat to stay on the ground, leaving their foot in place while the player falls to one side, resulting in an ankle injury.
The severity of these injuries depends on the speed of the fall, the player's weight, and if the player has a history of ankle injuries. It's impossible to avoid ankle injuries altogether, but understanding how and where they happen can help you be mindful of your ankles and prevent injury.
Types of ankle injuries
Now that you understand why ankle injuries happen so frequently in football, let's explore the different types of injuries. Some of these injuries are direct damage to the ankle, while others are injuries that occur to joints surrounding the ankle that can debilitate the whole area.
Broken or fractured ankle - This injury is common and can happen through twisting the wrong way or a direct hit, like a car accident or falling down steps. Broken ankles can be mistaken for ankle sprains as they have similar symptoms and can occur the same way. With a broken ankle, you'll experience pain immediately that worsens over the following days. Broken ankles require medical attention and are usually treated with a cast or brace, or require surgery in more severe cases.
Sprained ankle - With over 3 million per year, sprains are among the most common injuries in the United States. Sprains occur when your ankle forcefully turns beyond its normal position due to a fall or misstep. Pain from a sprained ankle occurs immediately and can worsen over the following days. Bruising and swelling may also develop. Sprained ankles can be treated at home with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. However, if there is difficulty bearing weight and walking, it may be helpful to see a doctor.
Ankle stress fractures - This type of fracture is a crack or severe bruise within one of the bones around the ankle. The pain from this type of injury occurs slowly and comes with soreness near the fracture. These fractures occur in situations of repetitive overuse or if the bone quality is poor, like in patients with osteoporosis or vitamin D deficiency.
High ankle sprains - This sprain involves ligaments above the ankle joint and between the fibula and tibia. A sprain can occur through harsh twisting, hard landings, or falls. While sprains are one of the most common injuries in the United States, high ankle sprain only accounts for 14% of them. While they are less common than a traditional sprain, they are most likely to happen during high-intensity sports. These sprains are usually treated without surgery, but if there is a complete tear of the ligaments and instability, surgery may be needed.
Turf toe - This is a type of sprain to ligaments underneath your big toe. The pain is usually immediate and can be associated with a pop. The pain is likely to worsen over 24 hours. This type of injury occurs from movements like "pushing off" from the ball of your foot, landing on your toes, or being tackled and your big toe hyperextending. Treatment usually includes resting and wearing a special insert in your shoe.
Symptoms associated with ankle injuries
No matter what type of ankle injury you are experiencing, you'll likely have the same symptoms. Severity and treatment vary from injury to injury, but the signs are usually consistent. If you have an ankle injury, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
Sudden onset of pain
Inability to put weight on the injury
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you likely have some type of ankle injury. While most ankle injuries can be treated at home, it's important to treat the injury immediately and properly.
When treating an ankle injury, the first thing you need to decide on is whether or not your injury requires medical attention or if it can be treated at home. Usually, this means deciphering between a sprain or a break.
Sprained ankle vs. broken ankle
The only way to properly diagnose a break vs. a sprain is with an x-ray. Thankfully there are some signs you can look for to help you decide whether or not to take a trip to urgent care or a doctor's office.
A loud pop or cracking noise that came with the injury
The ankle is misshapen
Your ankle or foot feels numb
Intense throbbing pain
Serious swelling and bruising
Difficulty bearing weight
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may have a broken bone or fracture. Seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Your break will probably be treated with a cast or brace, and more severe injuries might require a surgical repair.
If you don't have severe pain, swelling, and difficulty weight-bearing, you can treat your injury at home. The most effective treatment for healing injuries at home is rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).
REST - Rest the injured area as best you can. Avoid walking on it. If you need to move, use crutches, a wheelchair, or a friend to help support you.
ICE - Apply a covered ice pack to the area for up to 20 minutes three times a day. An ice pack will reduce pain and swelling.
COMPRESSION - Wrap your injury in an elastic bandage or compression sock. The compression will help to decrease swelling. However, be sure not to wrap it too tight. You'll know it's too tight if you have numbness, worsening pain, or swelling above and below the wrap. A compression wrap can be worn for two to three days.
ELEVATION - When resting, elevate your injury with a pillow or rolled-up blanket. Elevating the injury above your heart's level will reduce swelling by lowering the pressure in the surrounding blood vessels.
You can effectively treat your injury at home in combination with RICE and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) to help reduce pain and swelling.
If you're still feeling pain, it might be time to see an orthopedic specialist
After a few days of at-home treatments, the swelling and pain should start to subside. If after three days your injury does not get better, it might be time to see a doctor. Even when professionals like Jalen Hurts get injured, they can't always "fight through the pain," and neither should you. So make an appointment online or by calling 1-800-321-9999 and get back on the field in no time.