Q. I twisted my ankle two weeks ago playing basketball. It hurt a lot and I had to stop playing. It swelled a lot, and I have rested it for the last two weeks. I went to play basketball yesterday, and it is still really sore even though the swelling has gone down. How long does it take for an ankle sprain to heal, and when do you think I can play without pain?
A. Sprained ankles are one of the most common injuries seen in a sports medicine practice as well as emergency rooms. Most sprains occur by turning the foot inwards, injuring the ligaments on the outside part of the ankle. Ligaments connect two bones together. The most commonly injured ligament is the ATFL “anterior talofibular ligament.” More severe sprains may also involve injury to the CFL “calcaneofibular ligament,” the peroneal tendons on the outside part of the ankle, and if severe enough, the inside ligament known as the deltoid.
Sprains are divided into three categories: a grade I microtear, grade II partial tear, and grade III complete tear of the ligament. Severe sprains may require periods of immobilization and a brace or cast followed by a rehabilitation program. Even the more minor injuries may require a period of rest and physical therapy to achieve an optimal result. I find that ankle sprains tend to heal about 50 percent faster if a physical therapy and rehabilitation program is included in the patient's recovery. I recommend you see an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist for evaluation of your ankle. The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, or order further testing depending upon your examination.
Grade I or minor sprains usually get better in a week or two. Severe sprains can have pain and stiffness lasting a couple of months. The severity of your injury will determine when you are able to return to sports with no pain, no swelling, and no stiffness.
Dr. Harlan Selesnick is team physician of the Miami Heat and director of Miami Sports Medicine Fellowship, Doctors Hospital. Send your questions to HarlanS@baptisthealth.net