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Old Ankle Sprains Increase Risk for Newly Active Baby Boomers

The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons has a valuable lesson for Baby Boomers now getting back into fitness and sports: Get your ankles checked for chronic instability caused by sprains and other injuries that might not have healed properly years ago.

Many people who have suffered ankle sprains in the past could be at risk for more serious damage as they age and try to stay in good physical condition. It is estimated that one in four sports injuries involves the foot or ankle, and a majority of them occur from incomplete rehabilitation of earlier injuries.

“Many older adult athletes who have had a previous injury that wasn’t fully rehabilitated may experience swelling and pain as they increase their physical activity,” says Robert Duggan, DPM, FACFAS, an Orlando-based foot and ankle surgeon. “But pain isn’t normal in the ankle area, even if you’re starting to get back in shape.”

Duggan adds that both serious athletes and weekend sports participants often misunderstand how serious a sprain can be, and they rush back into action without taking time to rehabilitate the injury properly.

“A sprain that happened years ago can leave residual weakness that isn’t noticed in normal daily activity, but subjecting the ankle to rigorous physical activity can further damage improperly healed ligaments and can cause persistent pain and swelling,” says Duggan. “For anyone hoping to regain past athletic fitness, it’s recommended that you have that old ankle injury checked out by a foot and ankle surgeon before becoming active again.”

Some sprains are severe enough to strain or tear the tendons on the outside of the ankle, called the peroneal tendons. Persistent pain and tenderness after a sprain, especially if the individual felt a “pop” on the outside of the ankle and couldn’t stand tiptoe, might be a warning sign that the tendon is torn or split.  The injury is best diagnosed with an MRI exam.

Research has shown that more than 85 percent of athletes who had surgery to repair a torn peroneal tendon were able to return to full sporting activity within three months after the procedure.

“Peroneal tendon tears are an overlooked cause of lateral ankle pain,” says Duggan. “Although surgery for athletically active patients shouldn’t be taken lightly, surgical repair of the peroneal tendons is proving to be very successful in helping athletes with serious ankle problems return to full activity.”