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Determining an Athlete’s Return to Sports After Ankle Injury

The ankle is one of the most fragile parts of the body; therefore, it’s no surprise that many major sports injuries revolve around the ankle. Ankle sprain has accounted for 76.7% of injuries, which is followed at a distant second by fractures (16.3%). Sports like basketball and soccer have the highest risk of ankle injuries, as these sports can place significant stress on the ankle. It’s estimated that when an ankle injury occurs, the chance of re-spraining the ankle increases by a whopping 80%. Therefore, determining an athlete’s return to sports after ankle injury is a critical decision that many clinicians must make.

Fortunately, there is a barrage of tests that can help a clinician determine when an athlete is ready to return to sports after an ankle injury. In a recent journal article published in the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, researchers outlined which parameters must be examined – both physical and psychological – in order for a clinician to decide if an athlete is ready to return to sports. Researchers argued that a current lack of evidence-based guidelines make it difficult for clinicians to determine with confidence when an athlete can return to the game.

After researching several tests via primary literature searches, researchers concluded that clinicians could utilize the following tests to determine readiness:

  • The dorsiflexion lunge test;
  • The star excursion balance test;
  • The agility T-test; and
  • Sargent/vertical jump test.

These physical functional tests play a crucial role in determining an athlete’s readiness because it assesses a range of critical motions, including motion, balance, proprioception, agility and strength. Researchers argue that these indicators offer the best demonstration of an athlete’s ability to play on the court without increasing his or her risk of re-sprain or re-injury.

Researchers also point out that clinicians should prioritize psychological evaluations as much are primary functional ones. Trained athletes who make their living via physical activities may be frustrated by the amount of recovery and therapy that’s involved in healing an ankle injury. Therefore, clinicians should ensure that athletes truly understand the degree of rehabilitation that must occur before an athlete should return to their sports of choice.

As reported in the October 2012 of American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine.