Ankle sprains are common injuries in children who run, jump or play sports.
How does ankle sprains happen?
Ankles are made up of three bones with ligaments that hold the bones together. Ankle sprains usually happen when there is a twist and the ligaments are overstretched. This causes tears and bleeding, which show as bruising and swelling.
Signs of ankle sprains
- swelling, which can develop within minutes or until hours after
- pain around the ankle joint
- bruising, which shows up within two to three days
Care at home
You can usually care for a sprained ankle at home. Important is that you start right away and use the first aid principles RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) until the symptoms get better.
- Rest: rest the injured area and avoid activities that cause a lot of pain. If your child is having difficulty walking, crutches should be used.
- Ice: apply ice to the injured area for around 15 minutes. Don’t place the ice directly on the skin because it can burn the skin. Instead add the ice in a plastic bag or towel. Put ice on the ankle every two to four hours for two to three days.
- Compression: use a firm bandage that is not too tight and does not stop circulation or cause pain. The bandage should cover from just above the ankle right down to the foot.
- Elevation: raise the ankle to help reduce the swelling. For example, put your child’s injured leg up and rest it on some pillows.
When to see a doctor?
Seek medical advice if your child is unable to put weight on the injured ankle immediately after the injury or can’t move the foot or if the pain from your child’s ankle has not improved after a few days.
When to take medication?
Some children will need medicine to help with the pain. In most cases, paracetamol is fine. Anti-inflammatory medications may help, but these are not suitable for every child. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice before you give your child any medication.
Things to avoid
In the first days after your child’s injury, avoid the following:
- hot baths or other heat: this increases blood flow and makes the swelling worse
- re-injury: make sure to protect the ankle joint from re-injury by keeping weight off it and moving carefully
- foot massage: this promotes blood flow and makes the swelling worse.
Encourage your child to gently exercise and stretch. This should begin almost immediately after their injury to minimise stiffness. If your child experiences significant pain, further rest is required. Here three things you can do:
- Alphabet exercises: Using the ankle and foot to trace the letters of the alphabet from A–Z in the air.
- Foot circles: Draw a circle in the air with the affected foot. Repeat 10 times.
- Careful walking: walking on the ankle should be encouraged after two to three days if the pain is bearable.
You can expect your child to fully recover from most ankle sprains in one to two weeks.
How to prevent future accidents
To prevent future accidents, encourage your child to warm up before they exercise, and ensure they wear good shoes that are suitable for the sport.
Dr. Piyawut Kreetapirom, MD. (1 July 2020)