Does My Child Have a Sprained Ankle?

Ankle Sprains in Kids – Know the Symptoms

Two kids playing soccer

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries I see as a physician of sports medicine. It’s estimated that two million ankle sprains occur across the country every year – almost half taking place during sports-related activity. Ankle sprains commonly happen in sports that require cutting and jumping such as basketball, soccer, football, tennis and volleyball – but they can happen just about any time in any sport. Athletes at greatest risk are those between 10 and 19 years old.

A sprain is a stretching or tearing injury that is specific to ligaments (bone to bone connections in the body).  A common misconception among parents is that an ankle sprain is a ‘mild injury that will heal on its own.’ Please don’t take that approach if your young athlete injures an ankle.

Ankle sprains can lead to chronic pain and instability of the ankle if not properly treated.

Most ankle sprains cause an injury to the outside portion of the ankle. However, an injury to the inside of the ankle can indicate a far more worrisome injury. If you think your child has an ankle sprain, it’s always best to have an examination by a physician who has specialized training in evaluation of ankle sprains.

Some of the signs and symptoms that would necessitate evaluation include:

  • Inability or difficulty bearing weight on the affected ankle
  • Significant swelling or bruising anywhere on the ankle, leg or foot
  • Pain over the inside of the ankle or over the foot
  • Deformity of the ankle or foot

If any of the above signs or symptoms is present, it is advised that your child be evaluated as soon as possible. Ligaments may not heal properly if rest and or bracing are not performed. Ankle braces have progressed greatly over the past 20 years. Today’s ankle braces are far easier to put on, are comprised of more advanced materials, and are more comfortable to wear.

If you are local, our Pediatric Sports Medicine team recognizes the importance of early evaluation of sprains and other musculoskeletal injuries and offers same-day appointments by calling 513-803-HURT. We have  X-Ray capabilities, splints, crutches, and bracing for all levels of ankle sprains right in clinic. Many pediatric sports medicine practices have similar services for quick care in other parts of the country too.

If your child’s injury is after hours or on the weekend and your child is unable to bear weight or a deformity is present, an evaluation in an urgent care or emergency department would be recommended.

Depending on the degree of the ankle sprain, healing times may vary. If the ankle sprain is minor, recovery can take place within two to three weeks. With more severe ankle sprains, the healing time can take six to eight weeks for a full recovery.

At Cincinnati Children’s, we are available help your young athlete and to answer your questions. To make an appointment or speak with a staff member, please contact our Division of Sports Medicine.

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Gregory Walker, MD, FAAP

About the Author: Gregory Walker, MD, FAAP

Dr. Walker is a pediatric sports medicine physician at Cincinnati Children's. His clinical and research interests include concussions, musculoskeletal sports injuries, inactivity in youth and sports nutrition.

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  1. Nicky Eckstein April 03, 13:35
    My daughter Joey has seen Dr.Walker many times as she has EDS and CRPS,and he is a great Dr.we highly recommend him, thank you Dr.Walker
  2. Maddie Barth May 30, 12:04
    I have personally had minor sprains and I agree that the importance of getting to a qualified doctor as soon as possible is important if you are experiencing pain. Recently, I developed a stress fracture in my left fibula due to repetitively using it in lacrosse games. I had gone to my school trainer and was told that I would be fine to continue using it as long as I kept it wrapped. I did as they said and played on it for about a month. Since the fibula is non weight bearing it was not incredibly painful, but after one too many sprints and cuts in my lacrosse games I could no longer walk on it normally and was pulled out of our last game of the season. The trainer finally suggested that I may have a stress fracture, which I wouldn't have been able to diagnose because I have never experienced one. I went to a doctor outside of school and the x-ray showed that I definitely had a fracture and would be out for about a month. This was detrimental to my lacrosse schedule due to the fact that I was about to start practices with my summer club team on which I will be starting my college recruiting process. Although wrapping my leg for practice every day before practice and/or games, I felt less pain, but weakened the muscles in my ankle. I was not able to wrap it for one game and my weakened muscles could not support me as well when running and cutting. I definitely should have gone to a doctor sooner so that I could get a proper diagnosis which would have allowed me to be playing now rather than trying to regain the strength in my leg. Now I am left with only two weeks left before my first summer tournament and I am unprepared because I was diagnosed wrong. I can not stress enough how easy it is to get stress fractures and other injuries such as sprained ankles due to the increase in athletic participation, especially in middle school to high school aged children. It is important to go to a qualified doctor rather than going to a school trainer so that you will be able to heal most effectively and be back at it in the shortest amount of time. Do not continue playing on an injury if it is painful. A minor injury can quickly turn into a major one.