Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries that will sideline an athlete at any level of competition.
A new term appearing on injury reports is the “high ankle sprain.” The high ankle sprain refers to severe trauma to the ankle joint often requiring aggressive therapy.
The ankle joint consists of three bones: the tibia, the fibula and the talus, along with a series of ligaments connecting these bones. The most common ankle sprain occurs when the foot and ankle rotate inward. This results in stretching and tearing of ligaments followed by swelling.
Treatment with Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (RICE) is usually sufficient for a full recovery.
The high ankle sprain, also called a syndesmotic ankle sprain, involves the ligaments that stabilize the tibia and fibula. The mechanism of injury consists of outward twisting of the foot and ankle. It is most commonly seen in football, basketball and soccer. It may result from rapid changes in direction or direct impact. Initial treatment is similar to any ankle sprain but this may not be sufficient.
“If a high ankle sprain does not become stable, it will develop into a chronic problem,” said Dr. Michael Joyce, an orthopedic sports medicine specialist and UConn team physician. A plain X-ray of the ankle is not sufficient and accurate diagnosis requires a weight-bearing X-ray or MRI to see if the bones spread apart, according to Dr. Joyce.
Surgical intervention includes a variety of procedures with the goal of permanently stabilizing the joint while allowing for full return to sports.
High ankle sprains are serious athletic injuries and require careful evaluation and treatment. Coaches have enough familiarity with high ankle sprains to know that they mean an extended recovery.