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Shaquille O'Neal, Kristen Clement, Mateen Cleaves

WHAT IS AN ANKLE SPRAIN?

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.

DIAGNOSIS

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.

TREATMENT

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.

PREVENTION

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.

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