ankle sprains young athletes

Ankle sprains in younger athletes can lead to problems down the road if not treated early

by ggargiulo, February 23, 2018

Injuries are an inseparable part of life for active individuals of all ages, and the risks associated with each injury have much to do with how old the patient is. Since children and adolescents are still growing, additional factors need to be considered when deciding how best to treat injuries like ankle sprains. Ankle sprains are some of the most common injuries seen in active younger athletes involved in organized sports, but any time these types of injuries occur, there may also be damage to a growth plate.

Epiphyseal plates, or growth plates, are the areas of growing tissue near the ends of long bones in the arms and legs of children and adolescents. Each long bone has one growth plate at each end, and they are each responsible for producing new bone tissue. These growth plates determine the future length and shape of the mature bone, and once each child reaches skeletal maturity—usually between ages 14-15 for girls and 16-17 for boys—the growth plates close and are replaced by solid bone.

Growth plates clearly serve an incredibly important purpose, but they are also the weakest part of a growing child’s skeleton. Since they are weaker than the ligaments and tendons that connect muscles and bones together, growth plates are very vulnerable to injury. So for an adult or older teenager who is skeletally mature, injuring the ankle may only lead to a sprained ankle. But for children and adolescents, the same ankle sprain may also result in an injured or fractured growth plate.

In these types of situations, usually the growth plate of one of the two lower leg bones—the tibia or fibula—is injured. Symptoms of a growth plate injury include pain, swelling, tenderness, an inability to bear weight, and bruising. An injured growth plate might not do its job properly, and if left untreated, can lead to poor healing and negative long-term effects like crooked or misshapen bones. This is why it’s crucial to have any adolescent ankle sprain evaluated to determine if there is a growth plate injury and then treated appropriately.

How physical therapy fits into the treatment process

After an ankle sprain in a child or adolescent, they may need an X-ray or MRI to determine if a growth plate has been fractured. Whether or not a fracture is present, physical therapy will be a necessary component of the treatment process. A simple ankle sprain can be treated right away, while fractured growth plates usually need to be treated by reduction, which can be either surgical or performed by a doctor’s hands. This is followed by immobilization in a cast, and after the cast comes off, patients will start a physical therapy treatment program consisting of the following:

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Stretching exercises
  • Gait training
  • Sport-specific training

Children can be particularly accident-prone, and injuries are a part of growing up, but growth plate injuries should not be taken lightly. So if your child experiences an ankle injury, it’s wise to have it evaluated and diagnosed by a physician. From there, our expert team of physical therapists can properly address the problem and create a customized treatment program to get athletes back to activity quickly while avoiding long-term complications. Contact Strulowitz & Gargiulo Physical Therapy at 201-792-3840 to schedule an appointment today at our flagship Jersey City clinic, the Jersey City Medical Center Outpatient Therapy Department, our Bayonne office or at Clara Maas Medical Center in Belleville, NJ, or click here for more information on growth plate injuries.