What Every Athlete Should Know About Their Ankles

Ankle injuries are super common. Every day in the United States, 25,000 people seek care for ankle sprains — and that doesn’t even count the number of people with other ankle injuries, like torn or strained tendons or fractures.

While ankle injuries can happen to anyone, they’re especially common among athletes — pros, students, and weekend warriors, alike. Led by Dominique Nickson, MD, the team at Next Step Orthopedics in McKinney, Texas, wants athletes to understand how ankle problems happen — and what they can do to help prevent them.

Basic ankle anatomy

Ankle anatomy is relatively complex. The ankle alone contains 14 bones connected by strong, fibrous ligaments and tendons.

What we think of as the ankle is composed of two joints: the true ankle joint, comprising the two leg bones (the fibula and tibia) and the large talus bone of the foot, and the subtalar joint, located just below the true ankle joint and consisting of the talus and the calcaneus bones. The true ankle joint supports up-and-down movements, while the subtalar joint facilitates side-to-side motions.

The ankle is flexible, which is excellent for supporting the movements required by many types of sports. But that flexibility is also part of what makes the ankle so prone to injuries.

Common ankle injuries

Ankle injuries can involve any combination of bones, ligaments, and tendons, along with nerves, blood vessels, and muscles. Some of the most common injuries for athletes are strains, sprains, tendonitis, and fractures.

Strains and sprains

Strains occur when a muscle or tendon is stretched farther than normal. Sprains happen when one or more ligaments are stretched beyond their normal capacity. 

Sometimes, a tendon or ligament is stretched so far, it completely tears. People who have repeated sprains or strains can wind up with long-term ankle instability. 

Tendonitis

Tendonitis is a painful condition that happens when a tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. Ongoing inflammation can make the tendon more prone to tiny tears, leading to strains and ankle instability. 

Fractures

Fractures are broken bones, and like other ankle injuries, they can range in their severity. Fractures often involve damage to other structures, like the ligaments that connect them. 

Preventing ankle injuries

In sports, ankle injuries usually are associated with activities like:

Yes, there are lots of ways to injure your ankles if you play sports. But there are also lots of things you can do to help prevent injuries, like:

Strengthening your lower legs and adding balance exercises into your workouts can also help improve overall stability and endurance, which can help protect your ankles.

Don’t ignore ankle pain

It’s tempting to treat ankle pain on your own with rest, ice, elevation, and maybe bandaging. But ignoring ankle pain or opting for home remedies allows any underlying injury to get worse. In some cases, it can lead to recurrent ankle injuries that can limit your ability to take part in the sports you love.

Like other joint injuries, ankle injuries and unusual ankle symptoms need prompt medical attention to prevent more serious problems in the future. If you have an ankle issue, book an appointment online or call the office to learn how Dr. Nickson can help.

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