child with sprained ankle wrapped in a bandageChildhood sprains happen even to kids who receive the best parental care. Accidents happen, and sprains are a common form of injury. However, it’s important to know what to do if it happens to your child and when to see a podiatrist.

Causes of Sprained Ankles

The leading cause of sprained ankles in children is sports. Whether it’s soccer, basketball, or track—kids tend to twist their ankles most frequently while participating in a sport. Even if your child isn’t an athlete, their ankles are vulnerable on the playground during recess or any other time where they are actively running or climbing.

Sprains occur when the ligament stretches beyond its limit, causing a minor or major tear. The most common type of ankle sprain happens when the foot twists down and inward. Growth plate injury also plays a role at times. Flat-footed children are more likely to get sprained ankles as their ligaments tend to have less elasticity and freedom of movement.

Rating Your Child’s Sprain

Doctors break down sprains into three levels of severity. Your child’s treatment may vary depending upon what grade of sprain they have as follows:

  • Grade 1. This is a mild sprain, where the ligaments are only slightly over-stretched. The ankle is markedly swollen and sore, but the child still may be able to walk on it without too much trouble.
  • Grade 2. Small tears are present, loosening the ankle joint. The ankle will be swollen, and the child will likely feel pain whenever they put weight onto the injured leg.
  • Grade 3. This is the most severe type of sprain because the ligament has been completely torn. Your child will experience severe pain and swelling and will be unable to place any weight onto the foot at all.

Since an ankle sprain needs to be graded by a doctor, it’s important that you don’t just tell your child to “walk it off.” This could cause further injury to the ankle.

Treating a Sprained Ankle

When dealing with a sprained ankle, it’s always a good idea to call a podiatrist so that the injury can be properly evaluated and further injury or permanent damage can be prevented. In the meantime, there are various ways to treat a minor sprained ankle. For grades 1 and 2, home treatment options include:

  • Rest. Keep weight off of the foot as much as possible for at least a week.
  • Elevate. Try to keep the ankle above the heart level by lying down with the foot propped up on a pillow.
  • Ice. Icing the ankle will reduce swelling. Apple ice for 15-20 minutes every few hours for the first couple of days following the injury.
  • Apply pressure. A compression bandage can keep swelling at bay and also help your child in limiting movement while healing.

For grade 3 sprains, a doctor will need to put on a cast or boot to completely immobilize the foot while it heals. Sometimes, although rarely, child ankle sprains require surgery.

When to See the Doctor

It can be difficult to evaluate a sprained ankle from home, especially because children cannot always express what they are feeling clearly. This is truer the younger the child is. For this reason, if your child is experiencing any level of pain or discomfort more than several hours after the twist, it is a good idea to contact a podiatrist.

You’ll also want to call the doctor if your child is experiencing:

  • Significant swelling
  • Severe pain
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Inability to put weight on the ankle at all
  • Change in skin color
  • Numbness
  • Any bleeding or break in the skin

At InStride Carolina Podiatry, we can prevent further injury to the child’s ankle by administering proper treatment while also giving you the peace of mind that everything will heal up and be just fine.

Contact us to set up an appointment, where you can not only get treatment for a sprained ankle but also receive tips on how to help your child play more safely and avoid future occurrences.