Expert Q&A

My daughter banged up her ankle in a soccer game. How can I tell if it’s broken or just sprained?

Among the most common injuries to young people is a sprain to the ankle joint, which happens when the ligaments stabilizing the joint are stretched too far. A sprained ankle may result in swelling, bruising or tenderness over the affected ligament -- which causes pain and limits the function of the joint. The immediate treatment for an ankle injury is to rest it, elevate it and apply ice to it for 20 to 30 minutes three or four times a day. You can also give anti-inflammatory pain medications such as ibuprofen to your daughter, and put a wrap or brace on the ankle to reduce swelling and speed up recovery.

These measures usually allow the sprain to heal on its own, but if after a few days, the pain is uncontrollable or your child still has difficulty putting weight on her foot, have her examined by a doctor. A fracture of the bones in the ankle generally causes an immediate throbbing pain and an inability to put pressure on the foot -- along with bruising, swelling or tenderness. It can also cause deformity of the foot. If there is severe persistent pain, a misshapen appearance to the joint or a total inability to bear weight on the foot, take your child straight to the doctor or the emergency room.

Dr. Mark Diamond is a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

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