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Win the Sprain Game

It's time to rethink the lowly sprain. It causes hidden damage that can lead to reinjury, researchers now realize. Don't let it happen to you.

Men's Health—New York, NY—August 31, 2010

Lots of men worry about their back going out--or their knees just going. The lowly ankle sprain, however, is viewed as the common cold of musculoskeletal injuries.

It happens, and you get over it. It's hard to avoid.

But a growing number of researchers, surgeons, and trainers believe it's time to rethink this joint. A sprained ankle is the most common injury in sports, and yet our understanding of it is only now coming into focus. Sprains cause more damage than we once thought they did, and we can do a lot more to prevent the fallout.

In short, "Walk it off" may not be the proper response.

Every day, 25,000 Americans turn an ankle: That's 9 million sprains a year. A recent study using data from NBA team doctors and trainers found that ankle sprains are the most common injury among pro basketball players, on and off the court. That's why international conferences are devoted to the joint.


Beneath that bloated purple mass are three groups of ligaments that hold (or used to hold) the joint in place. They can stretch and loosen (a grade I sprain), stretch and partially tear (grade II), or tear completely (grade III). In the "high ankle sprain" of NFL injury reports, the large ligaments connecting your ankle to your two lower-leg bones are also damaged.

Your immediate diagnosis is simple: "There's mild or severe. You can either walk or you can't," says John Kennedy, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. If you aren't able to bear weight on your foot, seek immediate medical attention so a doctor can further diagnose the severity of your sprain. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.


Everyone knows the textbook rest-and-ice treatment, and nearly everyone screws it up.

One unpublished study of volleyball players showed that balance training can reduce the incidence of ankle sprains by at least half. Researchers say our brains need up to 120 milliseconds--three times longer than the 30 to 50 milliseconds it takes to roll an ankle-- to send a message to stop the process. So balance training may be massaging your mind.

"Patients who have had a significant ankle injury often feel they are performing at a lower level than they were before the injury--even if they aren't," says Dr. Kennedy. "They come to feel it's a weaker part of their body. And the only solution is to make them feel it can become the strongest part of their body, with these exercises. At the core of these exercises is balance. You know, life is balance; balance is life. It's not just in your ankle, but it's a good place to start."

Read the full story at menshealth.com.


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