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National Youth Sports Safety Month: Injury Management & Prevention

April is National Youth Sports Safety Month and that means shining a light on athletic injury management and prevention. If you’re anything like me you spend a LOT of time on the sidelines and in the stands watching your kids play, so it’s fitting to highlight safety measures that come in handy one day. I’ll note here early in this post that I’m not exclusively talking about sports; I’ve seen plenty of injuries due to marching band and drama club. As a pediatric emergency physician, I have seen all types of sports/activities injuries in all age groups. Let’s take a minute to go through a few key points worth knowing about ankle injuries.

Ankle injuries are the most common sports-related injury I see.. Most of the time in pediatrics this ends up being an ankle sprain, indicating a stretch in one of the many ligaments (not a break in the bone). One of the reasons for this is that there are just so many ligaments in the ankle that can get pulled and even torn during a quick and exaggerated movement. When an ankle injury occurs, inflammatory cells rush to the site to help with repair. This causes swelling and pain along with the inability to bear weight or walk in some cases. It can often be quite difficult for a parent, coach, or even healthcare professional to distinguish between sprains and broken bones with these types of injuries, as they can share several similar symptoms.

Sprains result when there is damage to the ligament, while ankle fractures mean that there is a break in the bone. Here are some signs or symptoms you can look out for in order to help distinguish between the two. Of course the only way to know for sure is to get an xray, although not all ankle injuries need an xray.

Broken Bone or Fracture


Injury Management

When faced with any kind of ankle injury, there are certain interventions that can be helpful at home.

R.I.C.E.Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate the ankle several times per day, along with ibuprofen as needed for pain reduction as the healing process is underway. This is a method that most of us are familiar with if we played sports in our youth, and it still holds true when done consistently. 

If your child is given a splint and/or crutches, use them as directed. Regardless of the type of ankle injury, not bearing weight on the affected side means that healing happens the fastest. Don’t return to activities too soon; it just increases the risk of re-injury or further injury. In most cases, sprains heal slowly on their own over several weeks by simply following the above guidelines and taking it easy. 

I always encourage patients to get evaluated sooner rather than later if they are concerned about a potential broken bone, especially in the ankle. No one wants a young person walking around (or hobbling around) on a broken bone, which can worsen an already existing fracture. Playing it safe is the best way to ensure future successful seasons to come.

Injury Prevention 

As with many medical conditions, the best way to avoid a sports-related injury is to prevent it. Easier said than done, of course! However, a few preventive measures ARE under your control:

I’ll close this blog entry by wishing your child endless success and enjoyment in sports and activities, and may all your seasons be injury free!