Mahomes' ankle sprain didn't hold him back. Why should yours?
Many of us watched Patrick Mahomes return to the field to lead his team to victory, despite suffering an ankle sprain during the divisional championship game. How did he do it?
"Sprains are very common, especially in athletes," says Dr. Gregory Caronis, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. "We have tools to support the ankle including taping, bracing and functional rehab that can help you regain function pretty quickly."
A sprain is a tear in the ligaments of your ankle that can destabilize the joint making it hard to pivot, change direction or do weight bearing activities. Returning to play or work too soon could cause further damage to the structure of the ankle, and in a sport like football, put you at greater risk for a tackle or hit that could exacerbate the sprain or cause an entirely different injury.
To support healing, orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists work together to stabilize and support the joint. In severe cases, surgery to tighten the ligament might be necessary, but this course of treatment is less common.
"Statistically speaking, the vast majority of people with sprained ankles don't need surgery," Dr. Caronis explains. "Healing is all about rehab and being diligent about the physical exercises your team recommends."
Early on, exercises like drawing the alphabet with your foot, stretching your Achilles tendon and foot, and using small ankle weights may help you regain strength. After initial rest and recuperation, wearing a brace recommended by your provider or having a physical therapist tape your ankle can allow you to function at a relatively high level while you're healing.
"If you're returning to activity too early, you'll feel pain and see a lack of normal function in the joint," Dr. Caronis cautions. "To be ready to go back on the field or to work, you should be able to function at the same level as you did before the injury, although you may need additional stabilization from a brace or to continue working with a physical therapist."
The good news is that a sprained ankle doesn't necessarily increase your risk of future injuries or sprains.
"As long as you take the time to finish rehab and heal, there's not necessarily a higher risk of doing it again," Dr. Caronis shares. "Most people will be able to get back to normal quickly, just like Mahomes."