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Anna Kournikova, Tennis Player

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WHAT'S INVOLVED IN DAMAGED ANKLE LIGAMENTS?

The ankle bone (talus) and the ends of the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) form the ankle joint, which is stabilized and supported by three groups of ligaments. Muscles and tendons move the foot and ankle.

According to the Rothman Institute, the ankle is the most common area for injury in the body. It has been estimated that 15% of all sports injuries involve the ligaments, bones, and tendons of the ankle.

During sports-related ankle injuries, the foot is likely to turn inward (ankle inversion) from a fall, tackle, or jump. This stretches or tears ligaments, resulting in an ankle sprain. The outside (lateral side) of the ankle is injured 90% of the time when the ankle rolls over; this is considered an inversion sprain.

DIAGNOSIS

Often, the ankle is tender, swollen, and discolored. Walking may be difficult, depending on the severity of the sprain.

The physician examines the ankle to identify the type of ankle sprain and determine the appropriate method of treatment. Ankle sprains are classified by "types" and range from mild to moderate to severe. A type I ankle sprain, the least severe, occurs when ligament fibers have been stretched or slightly torn.

Type II sprains occur when some of these fibers or ligaments are completely torn. In type III sprains, the entire ligament is torn, and there is significant instability of the ankle joint.

Classifying ankle sprains helps the physician diagnose the specific structures involved in the injury. This also helps determine appropriate treatment plans for each type of ankle sprain. X-rays of the ankle and foot are often used to rule out bone fractures, dislocations, or joint instability. Sometimes, the physician may recommend computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if he or she wants more detailed views of the bone and soft tissue around the ankle joint.

PREVENTION

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following to help reduce ankle injury risk:

  • Warm up before any sports activity, including practice.
  • Participate in a conditioning program to build muscle strength.
  • Do stretching exercises daily.
  • Never run when experiencing pain in the foot or ankle.
  • Wear protective equipment appropriate for that sport.
  • Replace athletic shoes as soon as the tread or heel wears out.
  • Wear properly fitting athletic clothes and equipment.

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