Frequently Asked Questions

In one week, my 85-year-old mother, 17-year-old son, and 40-year-old sister sprained their ankles. Just a fluke of fate, I guess. But it got me to wondering, do these three people have something in common or is it really just a random occurrence?

As you might expect, ankle sprains are the most common injury in athletes and people who participate in competitive sports. That may describe your son, but probably isn't as likely with your neighbor or your 85-year-old mother. We don't know a lot about ankle sprains in the general population. But a recent study looking at records from emergency departments reported ankle sprains as accounting for two million patient visits to the hospital. That translated into two billion dollars worth of costs. After digging a little further, they found that men and women sprain their ankles in equal numbers. Some specific age patterns are evident: there is a peak incidence of ankle sprains in women over 30 and men between the ages of 15 and 24. Ankle sprains occur most often during athletic activities, in particular, during basketball, football, and soccer (in that order). Athletes involved in other sports such as gymnastics, volleyball, and running are also at increased risk of ankle sprains. Not too surprising is the fact that the peak of sprains occurs in children between ages 10 and 19 as a result of sports, athletics, or other physical activity. But half of all ankle sprains occur while people are at home from falls on stairs or a stumble on a ground-level surface. There may be other important factors that haven't been identified or linked yet with ankle sprains. For example, there may be an important role of race, obesity, anatomy, or nutrition. Any one of those could be a common factor for the three people you mentioned. Or, as you suggested, it could be completely coincidental. But by identifying risk factors, health care professionals hope to be able to reduce the numbers of people experiencing this potentially disabling injury. Finding a way to prevent ankle sprains will be the focus of future studies. Stay tuned!

Captain Brian R. Waterman, MD, et al. The Epidemiology of Ankle Sprains in the United States. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. October 2010. Vol. 92. No. 13. Pp. 2279-2284.

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