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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.

RECOVERY

The recovery period for sprained ankles is usually around 3-6 weeks. This includes 7-14 days of immobilization and a slow program to regain strength and stability. There will probably be a period of 'rustiness' and a possible lack of some strength once the athlete returns to the game. In more severe cases, ligaments may require more healing time to promote ankle stability. Repeated ankle sprains may cause chronic instability, interfering with walking or sports activities. In this case, the physician may recommend a surgical procedure to tighten or create new ligaments around the ankle joint to re-establish its stability.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

This is an injury that can often recur. However, there is a very slim chance of the injury soon recurring for the two college athletes because the injuries occurred prior to their final games of the year. With proper rest, O'Neal should be at full strength for the NBA playoffs. If the athlete allows the injury to fully heal, the chance of reinjury greatly declines.

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