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Early diagnosis of sprain injuries is key to getting back in the game

A sprained ankle. Photo by Sarah Owen / CC Flickr

A sprained ankle. Photo by Sarah Owen / CC Flickr

Ankle, knee and shoulder sprains can be simple injuries that only keep a player off the field for 7 to 10 days.

But if a sprain isn’t diagnosed early and an athlete keeps the injury immobilized, it could take him out for half a season.

Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR host Ray Horner about this topic. The key to this injury is diagnosing it early and getting that joint moving again within the first 24 to 48 hours.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.

0:00

HORNER: Joining us live right now is our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni, from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Good morning, Joe.

DR. CONGENI: Hey, Ray. How are ya doing?

HORNER: I’m doing real well. What do you have for us today?

DR. CONGENI: Well, you know what? You and I have been [talking about] all these complex things. How about doing something simple?

HORNER: Sounds good.

DR. CONGENI: Let’s talk about a couple of injuries that are simple that I’ve seen so much in my office and I just want to get it straight for people. It’s an injury called a sprain.

There are 3 particular sprains that I want to talk about today because the diagnosis of them are pretty easy, but the treatment of them varies widely and can really affect a high-school athlete of any kind in a contact sport.

The 3 sprains that we see pretty frequently … are an ankle sprain, knee sprain and a shoulder sprain. A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament.

In the ankle, somebody twists their ankle and ligaments on the side get stretched or torn.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

In the shoulder, an AC sprain — also known as a partially separated shoulder — where between the collarbone and the shoulder blade there will be a stretch or tear in the ligament from a hit directly on the top of the shoulder, a blow to the shoulder. This, of course, occurs in football a lot this time of year.

In the knee, a hit on the outside of the knee that occurs in soccer from a slide tackle or in football from a blow to the outside of the knee — a lineman getting cut — will stretch the ligaments or tear the ligaments partially on the inside of the knee called the MCL, the medial collateral ligament.

But, a knee sprain, shoulder sprain, ankle sprain, that isn’t where it ends. The key to this is diagnosing it early as long as there’s not a fracture, which 90 percent of the time there’s not a bone injury; these are purely ligament injuries. They’re swollen, they’re painful and the first thing that a lot of people want to do is immobilize them for a period of time and not use them.

And this is what happens. They come in to see us after they’ve been immobilized for 2 weeks and instead of an injury that could be playing in 7 to 10 days, these people will be out, they’ll miss half a season. You know, football season 10 games, soccer season 20 games. They’re going to miss half the games after all that work all summer to get ready for it.

In this situation, it’s exactly the opposite. The key is not to stay in the swing too long for the shoulder, or that immobilizer coming out of the emergency room with the crutches or in that big boot on the ankle sprain. The key is within the first 24 to 48 hours get that joint moving. Get the swelling out of there, get the pain down and get the strength back in the joint.

It can literally mean the difference, Ray, between playing again within a week to 10 days versus somebody who misses a half season because this injury was not treated appropriately or aggressively enough.

So, for a kid that cares about sports getting that injury in early within the first few days is really the important message of what I wanted to cover today.

HORNER: Sounds good. Thank you, Joe. As always, we’ll see you at a football field near you, right? [laughter]

DR. CONGENI: Alright. Sounds good. See you soon, Ray.

HORNER: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital joining us.