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Sprained Ankles

I think my child has sprained her ankle. How can I tell for sure?

Sprains are injuries to the ligaments that connect bones to one another. A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched excessively or torn. Sprains are less common in young children, because their ligaments are usually stronger than the growing bones and cartilage to which they are attached. Therefore, the growing part of the bone might separate or tear away before the ligament is injured.  

Types of Sprains  

In young children, the ankle is the most commonly sprained joint, followed by the knee and wrist. In a mild sprain (grade 1), the ligament simply is overstretched. More severe sprains can involve partial tearing of the ligament (grade 2), or complete tearing (grade 3).  

Signs and Symptoms  

The signs and symptoms of sprains in young children can be quite similar to those for fracture and include the following:  

  • pain
  • swelling around the joint
  • inability to walk, bear weight, or use the joint  

When To Call The Pediatrician  

Call your child’s pediatrician if your child has a joint injury and is unable to bear weight or has excessive swelling or pain. Often the doctor will want to examine the child. In some instances, special X-rays may be ordered to rule out a fracture or a break. If there is a fracture or a break, your pediatrician may consult with or refer you to an orthopedist or sports medicine specialist.


When a sprain is diagnosed, treatment usually involves compression using an elastic bandage or immobilization with a splint. A walking cast may be necessary if the ankle or foot injury has been severe.  

Most grade 1 sprains will heal within two weeks without subsequent complications. Your child’s physician should be called any time a joint injury fails to heal or swelling recurs. Ignoring these signs could result in more severe damage to the joint and long-term disability.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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