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Common Sports Ankle Injuries & Interventions

Ankle injuries are common among athletes. A foot and ankle surgeon can help diagnose and treat your ankle injury for a faster recovery.


Your feet and ankles support much of your body weight at any given time while you’re on your feet. This means that ankle injuries are one of the more common bone and joint conditions. This is especially true for athletes and people who are returning to exercise after being less active.

“We get a lot of lateral ankle sprains,” says Jennifer Hall, DPM, a podiatrist at The Iowa Clinic’s West Des Moines campus. “Ankle instability, Achilles tendon ruptures and general tendonitis are all common. This is true for all patients having ankle issues, not just the athletes we see.”

Ankle injuries are often categorized based on which tissue is injured. Tendon (tendonitis), muscle (strain or tear), ligament (sprained ankle) or bone (fracture) are all types of ankle injuries.

Ankle pain vs. ankle injury: When to see a doctor.

General ankle pain from overuse is common in people who haven’t been active for a while. Such as those who are starting or returning to exercise or sports after a period of inactivity. If someone is playing basketball and overdoes it — they may just need to rest for a day or two to recover.

“People should consider seeing a physician or podiatrist when they have trouble getting around or are aware an injury has occurred,” Dr. Hall says. “This is true of instances where ankle pain doesn’t settle down after a couple days. Those are all good reasons to see a doctor.”

In more acute situations, usually there’s an active incident. You may recognize you rolled your ankle or got stepped on. Those are situations where the pain tends to be more serious.

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“Unless someone experiences a bad ankle injury or sprain, it’s typically not an emergency,” Dr. Hall says. “An example of something more urgent would be a rupture or fracture.”

Common sports-related ankle injuries and interventions.

Common sports-related ankle injuries and conditions among athletes include:

  • lateral ankle sprains
  • ankle instability
  • achilles tendon ruptures
  • ankle tendonitis

Ankle strains, sprains and fractures of all varieties are common among athletes.

“We see a lot of ankle injuries in basketball and dance, but really, any form of activity can result in an ankle injury,” Dr. Hall says. “The more chronic stuff stems from ramping up activity too fast.”

Sports Ankle Injury Treatments

Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) is a good method to treat minor ankle injuries and relieve pain until you can see a physician. You should avoid putting weight on your ankle prior to seeing a doctor, especially if you believe you are dealing with a serious ankle injury.

“Sometimes ankle injuries will require physical therapy, walking boots and/or bracing,” Dr. Hall says. “A lot of times, especially with athletes, we will work with patients on strengthening.”

Dr. Hall says a typical doctor office visit for a suspected ankle injury will include X-rays to examine the ligaments of the joint in the foot. The podiatry team at The Iowa Clinic does a full evaluation of the area that’s in pain and surrounding structures to properly diagnose the source of pain.

“We make sure that everything else is OK and that the patient is not compensating for injury elsewhere,” Dr. Hall says. “We provide a treatment plan with follow-up plans, as well.”

When Is Surgery Necessary?

Most doctors will try to avoid surgery for ankle injuries if they are able to. However, sometimes surgery is the best option for avoiding long-term mobility issues and chronic pain.

“We perform surgery when there is any type of rupture and especially with acute Achilles tendon-type ruptures,” Dr. Hall says. “Chronic lateral ankle injury sprains or repeat sprains are also common candidates for surgery. Patients with cartilage defects from old ankle injuries that don’t recover well may also need surgery. We’ll work with the patient to determine what’s best.”

What Is Recovery Time Like?

Recovery time for an ankle injury will vary based on the issue.

“For ruptures, and basically anything ligament-related, we always end up doing physical therapy afterwards,” Dr. Hall says. “Non-weight-bearing for four weeks, likely in a boot, and then we start physical therapy strengthening for a couple of months and then it’s back to activity for patients.”

“Physical therapy really helps out athletes with ankle injuries,” Dr. Hall adds. “Our physical therapy team does a great job helping athletes build strength to recover from injuries.”

“I really think the most important thing for recovery is to make sure you’re strong,” Dr. Hall says. “Whenever there is weakness in any muscle groups then athletes are setting themselves up for a potential injury. Wearing good, sport-appropriate shoes is also very important for athletes.”

Recommended Strength-Building Exercises

“Usually when patients come in and have weakness we do heel raises,” Dr. Hall says. “Resistance bands for ankle exercise are super important. Those are what I have people start with.”

A physical therapist can work with patients to adjust exercise routines, as needed.

When should someone see a podiatrist?

If you believe you have an ankle injury, there’s not really a wrong choice on what type of doctor to schedule an appointment with. Your primary care physician can diagnose and treat simple or chronic ankle conditions and refer you to a specialist in the event of a more serious injury.

“Most primary care offices don’t have the ability to take standing X-rays,” Dr. Hall says. “Within The Iowa Clinic’s podiatry department, we frequently utilize standing X-rays so we can properly check the alignment of joints and oftentimes better determine the extent of the issue.”

Orthopaedic surgeons may also provide specialized care for patients with ankle injuries, but some of them only treat injuries of the knee and above. A podiatrist or foot and ankle surgeon specializes in injuries of the feet and ankles, so they may be a little more detail-oriented.

Why choose The Iowa Clinic for ankle injuries?

The Iowa Clinic follows a coordinated care model, which means that its doctors work across departments to provide the best care possible. It all starts with primary care and builds from there. The orthopaedics team includes expert orthopaedic and foot and ankle surgeons.

“We have a team of bone and joint specialists that are all really well-trained,” Dr. Hall says. “We have a variety of experiences from what we treat to how long we’ve been doing it.”

“We can talk with one another if there’s anything concerning or atypical,” Dr. Hall adds. “That’s true of all the other groups we work with, as well. If there is anything strange going on medically, we can work together to optimize treatment in a way that is best for the patient’s situation.”

Whether you’re a serious athlete or a weekend warrior, ankle injuries can happen. The podiatrists and foot and ankle experts at The Iowa Clinic can help. Scheduling an appointment is easy.

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