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:
- 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.