Welcome ago to our series on explaining common NFL injuries. This month we’re talking about the ever-so dreadful high ankle sprain. Alprepared this year we’ve viewed Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffery, New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas, San Francisco 49ers’ Raheem Mostert and also others go down via high ankle sprains. However, as was so plainly demonstrated by the New York Giants phenomenal running back Saquon Barkley in 2019, the high ankle sprain is not an injury to take lightly. Why is it that this injury impairs players performance also after it’s healed and what can be done about it?

The Ankle

The ankle is comprised of three bones and many kind of ligaments. Those bones are the tibia and fibula, the 2 bones that consist of the reduced leg, and also the talus. Tright here are many ligaments on both the medial and also lateral side of the ankle yet, the ligament we are a lot of concerned around is the syndesmotic ligaments that attach the tibia and also fibula. The project of these ligaments are to stabilize the ankle and act as shock absorbers for the ankle joint.

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How the Injury Occurs

A syndesmotic sprain of the ankle, also more commonly recognized as a high-ankle sprain or AITFL sprain is traditionally as a result of ankle dorsiflexion in combination with outside rotation.


The high ankle sprain injury is the majority of generally acquired in the NFL by obtaining a direct blow on the lateral element of the ankle while tbelow is excessive exterior rotation of the foot. The exterior rotation of the ankle causes the tibia and fibula to pull ameans from one one more, placing push on the ligaments that affix them and the blow is sufficient to tear them. The picture to the appropriate is a great example that illustprices a player’s leg being externally rotated while also receiving a blow to the lateral side of the leg, a recipe for a high ankle sprain.

Anvarious other mechanism of injury is while the foot is hyperdorsiflexed (i.e. raising the foot upwards in the direction of the shin). This occurs as soon as the athlete has actually his foot planted and also falls or is pushed forward.

High-ankle sprains only make up 10% of all ankle sprains, although in specific sports (NFL) it feels prefer they consist of a much better percentage. This is the many prevalent kind of ankle sprain in collision sports.

This injury may also involve the posterior inferior tibiofibular ligament or syndesmotic membrane. If the force is serious enough this can bring about a proximal fibula fracture, frequently well-known as a Maisonneuve fracture (the fracture is close to the knee).

The patient will certainly have actually anterior ankle pain after the described device above. On exam the patient will certainly be tender over the AITFL ligament, and a squeeze of the mid-reduced leg will certainly geneprice considerable pain. In addition, external rotation of the leg will certainly additionally reason substantial pain.

The symptoms of the high-ankle sprain are pain and swelling around the injury. As well, the athlete may have actually obstacle putting push on the injured ankle as soon as walking.

Just for note, the high-ankle sprain differs considerably from the common lateral ankle sprain. The lateral ankle sprain occurs when the foot is excessively plantarflexed (i.e. pointing the foot to the ground) and then invert your foot which causes injury to the lateral ligaments of the ankle (photo below).


What does the syndesmotic ligament look prefer under ultrasound?


Determining Severity

High-ankle sprains are traditionally diagnosed with x-rays of the reduced leg that should be weight-bearing. The technological guidelines show over 5 mm room on the AP see with little bit overlap in between the 2 bones. While CT deserve to be advantageous, MRI is 100% sensitive, and 93% particular for high-ankle sprains.

Similar to hamstring strains (if you haven’t read our hamstring injury write-up, we extremely suggest doing that), any ligamentous sprain is graded based on its severity. A grade 1 high ankle sprain is clinically taken into consideration mild; there’s disruption of some syndesmotic fibers and also the acute microscopic tearing is not visible on radiographic imaging. Grade 2 is a partial tear; tright here is significant disruption of the syndesmotic fibers. Grade 3 is taken into consideration a complete tear of the syndesmotic ligament and generally occurs alongside a fracture of the tibia or fibula.


Prevention of any ligamentous injury is much more hard than a muscular injury for the simple reason that you cannot strengthen your ligaments with exercise. Exercises that boost the stamina and also muscle regulate around the ankle may aid to stand up to the forces that cause the high-ankle sprain.


When treating a high-ankle sprain, the therapy approach is ultimately established based upon the severity of the injury. The bulk majority of high ankle sprains are of the mild, grade one type, and also therefore are treated conservatively. Grade 1 is the mildest, and also normally responds to remainder, ice and immobilization, and also takes about 2 to 4 weeks to return. Once the acute inflammatory phase has actually subsided, the athlete will go with physiotreatment. Physical therapy is extremely important in order to get back to 100% pre-injury develop. Initially they will certainly focus on isometrics, then isotonics, and also then proprioceptive and also plyometrics prior to full return to play.

Many high ankle sprains take an average of 4 to 6 weeks to recuperate and players might use a functional ankle brace that have the right to be used to limit divariation and external rotation to assist additionally stabilize the joint and also reduce the risk of re-injury.

In the case that imaging mirrors that there is considerable damages to the ankle ligaments and also that the tibia and fibula are separated, qualities 2 and 3, this should warrant surgical evaluation. If tbelow is significant area between the 2 lower leg bones on x-ray, or a fracture, surgery is frequently shown. There are a pair different surgical approaches typically offered. The classic method is to usage a screw to stabilize the two bones together, and also the newer approach is to usage surgical wire (‘rope’) instead of a screw.

If the injury needs to be diminished then a splint must be applied, and the patient must be non-weight bearing using either crutches or a wheeled scooter. The perboy is inserted in a cast for 6 to 8 weeks, and then ultimately walks with the cast prior to being able to shed it.


Rehabilitation for some even more severe high-ankle sprains should initially develop selection of motion, then toughness and also lastly proprioception. X-rays eextremely two weeks must be taken to monitor the status of the healing. These deserve to take several months to totally heal. After that, physiotherapy will certainly be introduced at a progressive pace and on average an athlete can return after 10 to 12 weeks post-surgical procedure.

Another way to treat high-ankle sprains is through injection, typically making use of regenerative medication products, consisting of PRP, stem cells (extracted from bone marrow or fat), or an amniotic allograft tissue.

The finest method to visualize the injury on ultrasound is in the long-axis, and the injury is approximately 2 cm underneath the surface of the skin. Usual findings of an acute injury incorporate ligament disruption, hematoma formation, and also dynamic instability via stressing of the joint. Chronic injuries traditionally display even more thickening of the ligaments via calcifications.

Regenerative medication injections have been extremely effective in increasing recovery times for athletes, but tbelow are no well-designed studies to support this practice at this present time.

Discussion (as it comes to the NFL) Written by: Jesse A. Morse, MD, CAQSM

High-ankle sprains, particularly in running backs, wide receivers and tight ends have a propensity to be very complex to return from. This injury really zaps the player’s power, and the majority of players battle once they rerevolve. Often they execute not look like the very same player until the complying with seachild.

This was apparent through two high-profile running backs in 2019, as both Saquon Barkley and also Alvin Kamara suffered the dreaded injury. Both never completely returned to create in the time of the 2019 season and were able to return to 100% for 2020 after functioning diligently for months via physical therapists throughout the off-seachild (Google: Alvin Kamara, Dr. Sharif Tabbah).

These injuries are unfortunately extremely common, especially in the NFL. With so many kind of civilization pushing, blocking and rolling on the ground near each other’s feet, many type of players have actually their ankles rolled up on, causing this injury. Other times players are tackled in an awkward fashion, which leads to this injury is well.

Unprefer a conventional low ankle sprain, civilization enduring from a high-ankle sprain cannot just grin and bear it. The pain and also discomfort are sindicate also a lot and also the injury has been unfortunately incredibly widespread aget in 2020.

Speaking from suffer, when I hear a player has experienced the high-ankle sprain, I anticipate they’ll battle for the remainder of that seakid and automatically lower my expectations for them, regardless of the ability of the athlete. Thanktotally, with appropriate and also substantial rehabilitation, the athlete typically is able to go back to 100% (pre-injury form).



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