Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fitness & Exercise

Font Size

Shaquille O'Neal, Kristen Clement, Mateen Cleaves


According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, ankle sprains are the most common athletic injury. The bones joined in the ankle are connected by ligaments as they form a socket in which the ankle joint moves. When an ankle is sprained, a ligament is either stretched, partially torn, or completely torn. Nearly 85% of ankle sprains occur laterally, or on the outside of ankle joints. Sprains on the inside ligaments are less common.

An ankle sprain involves the stretching or tearing of a ligament around the ankle. The injury occurs when the ankle is twisted or forced to bend in directions where the tendons and muscles offer no support. There are three grades of ankle sprains, and it is expected that O'Neal has a Grade 1 sprain, while both college players have Grade 2 sprains. A Grade 1 sprain (mild) involves a stretching of the ligament without a tear. A Grade 2 (moderate) sprain usually involves a partial tear or a complete tear with moderate symptoms. A Grade 3 sprain involves a complete tear with severe swelling, tenderness, and bleeding.


The injury is diagnosed through clinical exam. Physicians can test the ankle for pain and flexibility, and because the injury has symptoms very similar to those of a fracture, X-rays are always taken as a precautionary measure. The degree of injury can be found by clinical exam, patient feedback, and, ultimately, an MRI.


The common sprain is treated with RICE -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Immediately after the injury, the patient usually has the area immobilized and is usually on crutches for some time. Athletes are generally either unable to return to action, as in Clement's case, or not given clearance to return to action. In more severe cases, non-weight-bearing activities are encouraged, and crutches may be recommended. Compression, which eliminates motion around the ankle joint, may require that an elastic bandage, splint, short leg cast, or brace be worn.

Some doctors believe that it was an unnecessary risk for Cleaves to re-enter the game. He could have sustained a far more serious injury that could have jeopardized his NBA draft status and future career.


Sprained ankles are not easily prevented. The ankle can be taped and the athlete can wear high-top sneakers, but even with this added stability, the injury cannot be completely avoided. Stretching and strengthening can also decrease the chances of injuring the ankle, but only to a point. Athletes who play on a hard surface such as a basketball court are at high risk, and with all the jumping involved in that sport, it is not uncommon for an athlete to twist or "roll" an ankle.

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

Wet feet on shower floor tile
Flat Abs
Build a Better Butt Slideshow
woman using ice pack

man exercising
7 most effective exercises
Man looking at watch before workout
Overweight man sitting on park bench
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

pilates instructor
jogger running among flowering plants
Teen girl jogging
Taylor Lautner