Preventing & Treating Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries on the basketball court. In fact, some podiatrists consider them a basketball player's worst enemy. While prevention is your best defense against ankle sprains, accidents happen. A good plan and a little foreknowledge in the event of a sprain can ensure a more successful recovery, and smoother transition from the bench back to the court.

What is an ankle sprain?

An ankle sprain is an injury to one or more ligaments, usually on the outside of the ankle. Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect the bones, and hold the joints in place. Suddenly stretching ligaments beyond their normal range can tear them, resulting in a sprain. The severity of an ankle sprain depends on the extent to which a ligament is damaged, and the number of ligaments involved. Ankle sprains are not the same as strains, which affect the muscles and not the ligaments. (Avakian)

Causes of ankle sprains: Ligaments stabilize the ankle by limiting side-to-side movements and allowing movement in the right directions. Sprains can be caused by sudden twists, turns, rolls, falls, or other motions that force the ankle joint out of its normal position, often during basketball games where side-to-side movements are frequent. Combine that with basketball shoes that don't provide the proper base and ankle support - especially if the ankles are already weak from sustaining previous ankle injuries - and neglecting to condition the ankles before games and practices, or taping or otherwise supporting the ankles, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Symptoms of ankle sprains:

Preventing ankle sprains: The first way to avoid an ankle injury is to wear good supportive basketball shoes. By far the most popular type, and most recommended by coaches and doctors, are sturdy high top basketball shoes. High tops are worn by nearly 70 percent of NBA players. Professional players replace their shoes often, about every 6-7 games, to ensure proper fit and treads, as leather uppers tend to soften and stretch out, and other materials wear out. For young players who cannot afford more than one pair of shoes per season, simply taping the ankles, wearing ankle braces, plus preconditioning and weight training to strengthen the ankles, go a long way to keeping them off the bench and on the court.

Treating ankle sprains: Proper treatment and allowing your ankle ample time to heal should get you back in shape for tip off. Podiatrist and surgeon, Dr. Tony Avakian suggests using the "R.I.C.E." method to heal ankle sprains which includes Rest, Ice (20 minutes on and off), Compression, and Elevation. Immobilization could be called for, depending on the seriousness of the injury, using a cast, boot, brace, or crutches. Physical therapy may be a recommended follow-up to rehabilitate the injured ankle. Medications include a safe, anti-inflammatory drug containing ibuprofen to relieve pain caused by inflammation. In cases of sprains, always seek the advice of your health care practitioner or sports doctor.

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