If you have an athlete, there is going to come a time where they get injured. Ankle injuries are VERY common and can happen when you least expect it. So how do you know if it is a sprain or a break?
That photo is of my daughter's ankle a few weeks ago. She had just finished cheer season and was returning to the dance studio. She did three classes and in the final 15 minutes of her last class of the night she did a leap – like the ones she has been doing since she was little – and for some strange reason she just landed wrong and ended up in a heap on the floor.
Her ankle swelled IMMEDIATELY (this is a clue).
I have been around kids and sports long enough to know that if an injury swells up immediately, you do not play the wait and see game. You go directly to the Emergency Room. No questions asked. GO.
When we got to the ER they immediately did x-rays and the x-ray did not reveal a break of any kind, so they diagnosed it as a sprain, gave her an air cast and sent her home.
I also know that the ER does not always get things right and that their job is to care for the critically injured/sick and as far as they were concerned this is not critical.
The next day I called the Pediatric Sports Medicine Orthopedic group that we have used in the past and they definitely wanted to see her. They took a look at the same x-rays, spent some time talking with her, examining the injured area and they came back with a different diagnosis. Yes, there was a hairline fracture and significant soft tissue damage and she was best treated by putting her leg in a cast for three weeks.
In the end, there is no way you as a parent or a coach can diagnose a sprain versus a break yourself. Yes, there are some indicators – such as swelling, ability or inability to move the affected area, pain levels – but when in doubt, get it checked out. It could be the difference in your child returning to play in a few weeks versus dealing with months of recurring injuries, pain and discomfort.
My daughter is sporting a nice pink cast for the next few weeks, but I am confident that once it is removed, she will be healed and ready to get right back to cheering for basketball and for dance.